By Frank James
Warren Buffet, the oracle of Omaha, suggested President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats go back to the drawing board on health-care overhaul legislation and work with Republicans to come up with new legislation that deals with the "cost, cost, cost," that he calls a "tapeworm eating at American competitiveness."
In comments made during a lengthy CNBC appearance Monday where he talked about the economy and financial markets, he criticized the Democratic legislation as not doing enough to slow the cost increases that are making health care an ever larger share of the U.S. economy and making American companies less competitive globally.
While he didn't say the Democrats should "scrap" the bill in response to a question to that effect from interviewer Becky Quick, he clearly suggested as much.
Buffet's comments are likely to draw wide notice since Obama was fond of dropping the mega-billionaire's name as one of his informal advisers earlier in his presidency. Buffet's position certainly doesn't help the president as he tries to push his plan through Congress in coming weeks.
Meanwhile, Republicans wasted little time seizing on Buffet's comments. House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner's office posted the clip of Buffet on CNBC along with a transcript to its website and e-mailed it far and wide.
Here's the transcript:
WARREN BUFFETT: We have a health system that, in terms of cost, is really out of control, and if you take this line and you project what has been happening into the future, we will get less and less competitive. So, we need something else. Unfortunately, we came up with a bill that really doesn't attack the cost situation that much and we have to have a fundamental change. We have to have something that will end the constant increase in medical cost as a percentage of GDP.
BECKY QUICK: Then, are you in favor of scrapping this and going back to start over?
BUFFETT: I would be -- if I were President Obama, I would just show this chart of what's been happening and say this is the tape worm that's eating at American competitiveness, and I would say that one way or another, we're going to attack cost, cost, cost, just like they talk about jobs, jobs, jobs in the economy. It's cost, cost, cost in this side. That's a tough job. We're spending maybe $2.3 trillion on health care in the United States, and every one of those dollars is going to somebody and they're going to yell if that dollar becomes 90 cents or 80 cents. So, it takes -- but I would try to get a unified effort saying this is a national emergency to do something about this. We need the Republicans, we need the Democrats. We're going to cut off all the kinds of things like the 800,000 special people in Florida or the Cornhusker Kickback, as they called it, or the Louisiana Purchase and we're going to get rid of the nonsense. We're just going to focus on cost and we're not going to dream up 2,000 pages of other things. And I would say as President, I'm going to come back to you with something that's going to do something about this, because we have to do it.
QUICK: Just focus on cost or focus on cost while insuring more people?
BUFFETT: Well, yeah --
QUICK: Is there two different problems?
BUFFETT: Universality -- yeah, I believe in insuring more people, but I don't believe in insuring more people until you attack the cost aspect of this.