Opinion: GOP leaders McConnell, Boehner reply to Obama on healthcare (text)


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A short time ago, The Ticket published here the full transcript of President Obama’s news conference this evening, focused primarily on healthcare and the ongoing debate in the nation’s capital.

Here is the full text of the Republican response by Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Rep. John Boehner of Ohio.

Technically, it’s a presponse or preply because the two Republican congressional leaders gave the media availability before the president’s nationally televised news conference, knowing full well no one in the Washington media would give a Q-Tip what they had to say afterward.


One thing both the White House and Capitol Hill GOP leadership say they agree on is that the heated healthcare debate is not about President Obama.

(Unless, of course, you think that achieving such a long-postponed top Democratic priority in his first few White House months might conceivably benefit Obama’s image as a strong national leader or that thwarting such an achievement by the new president whose popularity is rusting could possibly hurt Obama with his political left supporters or benefit the political opposition heading into the midterm elections of 2010.)

Below, the GOP leaders dispute the cost numbers of the Obama healthcare plans as vastly underestimated. And Boehner points out a so far little-discussed provision of one reform plan, requiring federal approval of employee healthcare plans after five years -- a bureaucrat hoop many companies might choose to avoid by letting their workers fall into a government plan.

As usual, The Ticket has full texts. Here’s the Republican version.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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News conference of Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. John Boehner, July 22, 2009
(Unedited transcript)

MCCONNELL: Well, good afternoon, everyone. Obviously, the subject du jour -- and it seems like virtually every day -- is health care. And it certainly should be the subject.

I continue to hear suggestions that members of the Republican Conference in the Senate are not for health care. I can’t find a single member who -- who is not for trying to improve America’s health care system.

Most all of us agree with the American people, who overwhelmingly say in polls that .... the quality, but they are concerned about the cost and the access.

And, of course, cost and access are related issues. The administration does continue to mention these unnamed people who seem not to want to make progress on this, and I’ve been unable to find anyone.

Not a single, solitary soul, as I indicated, of the Republican Conference in the Senate is in favor of no action. What we do think is that we ought to target the problems. And there are ways to do that that could be achieved, I think, on a large bipartisan basis.

For example, why should we any longer tolerate junk lawsuits against doctors and hospitals? Example: Why would we not want to incentivize plans like the Safeway plan that has demonstrated you can -- you can cap the cost of health insurance by incentivizing your employees to go after the preventable causes of health care problems in this country -- smoking, obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, lack of exercise.

They have demonstrated that by incentivizing their employees to change their behavior, they can have an impact.

We know that one of the reasons we have such a large number of uninsured is because if you’re an individual purchasing health care, it’s not deductible on your tax return. But if your company is providing it for you, it’s deductible on the corporate tax return.

Why would we not want to equalize the tax treatment for individuals and corporations?

These are the kinds of things that would have a positive impact on improving the cost issue and access.
I noticed that the CBO director (nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office) was sort of called down to the White House yesterday. It strikes me as somewhat akin to the owner of the team asking the umpires to come up to the owner’s box. I mean, if the CBO is to have credibility, they’re the umpire. They’re not players in this game.

And I don’t think we ought to be tampering with an organization that is arguably controlled by the majority here in Congress but, nevertheless, tries to function as an independent arbiter, an estimator of the cost of what we do.

So we look forward to being able to move a health care proposal this year on a truly bipartisan basis and one that doesn’t increase the deficit, one that doesn’t put the government in charge of – of our health care, one that doesn’t produce a system that in the end delays cares, in many instances denies care.

And, of course, in order to do that, they would be rationing care. I don’t think the American people want any of that, nor should we be trying to pass it. With that, let me call on my friend and colleague, Leader Boehner.

BOEHNER: Well, let me thank you, Senator McConnell, for your work over here in the Senate, and your work, really, with your Republican colleagues in the House on dealing with the issues that are coming at us like a machine gun.

Listen, the American people want us to work together to reform health care in America so that it costs less and that we can then provide better access for more Americans.

But I think, as Americans look up today, what they see is a big government takeover of health care that’s on the table and a plan that -- that, frankly, they don’t support.

Tonight we’ll hear the president likely say some -- repeat some of the myths that he’s been repeating over the last several months.

First he’ll say, if you -- if you like your plan, you can keep it. But, clearly, under the Congressional Budget Office estimates, 23 million Americans will be forced out of their private health insurance into a government-run plan.

And Lewin and Associates, a consulting firm, health care experts, estimate that number could be as high as 114 million.

He’ll say that the -- the Democrat plan will reduce health care costs in America, but it’s pretty clear that the director of the Congressional Budget Office says the health care curve not only will not decrease, that the health care curve will increase.

And at a time when we’re trying to get the costs out of the system, there’s nothing in their proposal that will reduce costs in our health care system.

I don’t know how you can spend $1.6 trillion over the next 10 years and say that we’re going to spend less on health care.

The president’s likely to say that any plan that passes will not add to the deficit. Well, the Congressional Budget Office has made clear that the plan that’s on the table in the House will increase the size of the deficit by $239 billion over the next 10 years.

You know, beyond all this, the White House chief of staff, this morning, said that the president -- he was reviewing the president’s speech when he said, ‘The president’s likely to say that we’ve rescued the economy.’

BOEHNER: Well, I’d like to ask my folks back in Ohio, where the unemployment rate is at 11.2 percent, whether they’ve been rescued by their economy. And if they try to fix our health care system like they’ve tried to rescue our economy, I think we’re in really, really big trouble.

Listen, it’s time for the president to scrap the plan that they’ve been working on in the House. It’s time to bring both parties together to have real health care reform that will reduce the cost of the system, will reduce the cost of health insurance for Americans, and provide better access.

MCCONNELL: We’ll take a few questions. All right.

QUESTION: Senator McConnell, Senator Voinovich said on CNBC today, he was asked what (inaudible) Obama’s health care plan (inaudible) policy differences or whether (inaudible). What’s your reaction to that?

MCCONNELL: Well, as I said earlier, I’m unaware of a single member of our conference, not one, who is not in favor of doing health care reform in a very positive way, and for one plan or another. There are various plans that are around.

So I -- you know, we want to do the right thing here. This is not about the president. I think there are some who think everything is about the president. This is about the country and about a huge issue that affects all of our lives, our health, and is 16 percent of our economy.

And in a country of 300 million people, obviously their representatives may have some different points of view about the best way to fix the problem. But this is not about any individual. This is about the issue and taking the time to get it right, as Leader Boehner indicated.

We had an experience with rushing a major bill earlier this year. They said we had to get the stimulus through yesterday.

With interest, that’s going to be about a trillion dollars. We’re spending $100 million a day in interest on it.

And it was sold to those who enthusiastically embraced it as a way to keep unemployment from going above 8 percent. Now it’s headed to 10. And in Kentucky, its 10.9 percent.

We don’t need a do-over of that kind of procedure. This is too important to be rushed. We need to take our time and do it right.

QUESTION: But would you say there’s any political motivation to your opposition to President Obama’s health care plan?

MCCONNELL: I hate to repeat what I just said, but this is about getting the policy right. This is about getting the policy right. We don’t wish anyone ill. We want to get the policy right.

QUESTION: But, Senator, you must be -- Mr. Boehner has frustrations that Republicans (inaudible) maybe on the House side, but you must be satisfied that negotiations over here are fairly bipartisan. Senator Grassley (inaudible).
MCCONNELL: Yes, we have plenty of discussions, but in the end, the question will be, how bipartisan is the product? I mean, we’ve had plenty of interaction with the president. I like him. He’s a good -- good man.

But the test of whether or not this is a bipartisan product will be the product itself.

QUESTION: Leader Boehner, we heard Speaker Pelosi say today she thinks she has the votes. That sort of contradicts something we heard Congressman Cantor say yesterday, I believe. (inaudible)

BOEHNER: Well, I don’t know whether she has the votes or not. I’m not quite sure she knows whether she’s got the votes or not. But it is pretty clear that they’re going to rush ahead and put this risky scheme on the floor as early as next week.

Now, we need (inaudible) to look at the pieces of this puzzle. I didn’t bring my chart with me, but this is a giant government bureaucracy.

You know, yesterday, I pointed out this little section in the bill that requires after five years all employer-provided health care plans are going to have to be approved by the Department of Labor and the health care choices czar.

And their approval will be based on whether these employer-provided plans meet federal standards for a high-quality plan.

Are you kidding me? I mean, most employers in America are going to look up and go, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa. That’s it. I’ll pay the 8 percent tax that’s included in this bill. And my employees will have to go fend for themselves.’

This will push tens of millions of Americans right out of their employer-provided health care plan.

QUESTION: Leader Boehner (inaudible)? And is it a problem to have the CBO invited to the (inaudible) White House (inaudible)?

BOEHNER: Listen, I don’t fault the CBO director from accepting an invitation from the president of the United States to attend a meeting. I’m not quite sure what the purpose of the meeting or the invitation was. And so, you’ll have to ask the White House that question.

But you bring up a very important point. The $239 billion deficit really is only for about five years. Because it’s going to take five years for this plan to be put into effect.

And so, when you look at the real cost of this plan, it’s not just the $1.6 trillion. It’s going to be a whole lot more than that over a 10-year period. Because as CBO pointed out, when you get out into years seven, eight and nine, you’ve got annual costs for this plan over $200 billion a year.

As a matter of fact, I think in year nine or 10, it’s $230 billion per year. And that’s in today’s dollars. And government estimate. Can you imagine what it’s really going to cost when we get out 10 years? You’re probably talking about $300 billion a year in additional outlays.

And clearly the tax increases that they have are bad enough, but will not be anywhere close enough to cover the real cost.

QUESTION: Senator McConnell, (inaudible)?

MCCONNELL: To do what?

QUESTION: (inaudible)

MCCONNELL: Well, before we get to the issue of how to pay for it, we need to see what we’re doing. And we haven’t -- as far as I know, other than the HELP Committee bill, which was unpaid for. They just structured the bill and left the pay-fors to the Senate. I’m not prepared to start picking out pay-fors until I see the product. OK. Thank you.

BOEHNER: Thanks. ###