Sen. Gregg On Sotomayor, Health Care

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The Senate voted to confirm Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court on Thursday. Linda Wertheimer talks with Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, who was one of the few Republicans to vote for Sotomayor. They also discuss the ongoing health care negotiations.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

President Obama did not get his health care legislation before Congress departed for the August recess, but he did get his nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate voted 68-31 yesterday to confirm Federal Judge Sonia Sotomayor. Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire was one of the few Republicans to break with the leadership of his party in voting to confirm her.

Senator JUDD GREGG (Republican, New Hampshire): Well, my view is that the president has the right to pick his judges. As long as you pick people, who have - are of high integrity, very capable, thoughtful, intelligent people who are not out of the mainstream of American political thought or jurisprudence, I think they have a right to serve and a right to be confirmed. I've actually voted for every judge who has come before the Senate since I've been here. I voted for Judge Ginsburg and Judge Breyer and Judge Alito and Judge Roberts and now Judge Sotomayor because, as a very practical matter, I thought her reflections on how she approached the decision process were consistent with judging generally.

WERTHEIMER: In the not-so-distant past, large numbers of Republicans voted for the justices nominated by a Democratic president. Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg had very few votes cast against them. What is different about Sotomayor? It's not happening this time.

Sen. GREGG: Well, remember, since then, you've had the Bush administration, where large numbers of Democrats voted against really talented people like Justice Alito, and a fair number voted against Justice Roberts, I think. But as a very practical matter, I think what's happened is the culture's changing. The approach to confirmation of justices is changing, and it's unfortunate. I do believe we should get back to the process of looking at judges based on their quality and their capabilities and that we should not try to draw in the very intense partisanship that has really evolved in our system.

WERTHEIMER: Senator Gregg, moving on to health care, that's another area where there's considerable Republican resistance to the administration's health care plan. Why is that?

Sen. GREGG: I haven't seen a written plan from this administration. I have seen one that was passed by the House of Representatives by the Democratic leadership in the House which is extremely far to the left and would basically lead to a health care system where you would have a government plan - which, in my opinion, would be a bureaucrat between you and your doctor and would lead to a system like Canada or England, which is inevitably going to lead to rationing and delays, and which would lead to a massive increase in our debt.

You have a plan that came out of the Kennedy-Dodd committee, which I serve on, which is not far from the House position, very far on the liberal side of the agenda, basically a nationalization again, using the government as the primary provider and leading to a system where the government ends up being the primary insurer.

WERTHEIMER: So you're assuming that it would lead to. It's not that it calls for it.

Sen. GREGG: That is its purpose, in my opinion.

WERTHEIMER: Mm-hmm.

Sen. GREGG: It's not an assumption. I believe genuinely that that's its purpose. And if you talk to the folks who support a single-payer system on the other side of the aisle, they're fairly forthright about it. People like Bernie Sanders say, yes, that's what I want.

WERTHEIMER: Is there anything about the direction in which these health care plans are moving - I mean, sort of the shape of them that you can see at this point, keeping in mind that we haven't seen everything yet? Anything to like for you?

Sen. GREGG: Well, remember that on our side of the aisle, there are three or four major plans that have been proposed. The goals are insure the uninsured, make sure everybody has insurance coverage, reduce the out-year costs and rate of growth of health care, and if you like your health care, you should be able to keep it. If you like your insurance, you should be able to keep it. Those should be the goals.

WERTHEIMER: You sound like President Obama.

Sen. GREGG: They are President Obama's goals. The only problem is that the two plans that he has endorsed so far, the two that have passed the Congress - the one in the House and the one in the Senate that came out of the Kennedy-Dodd bill - don't do any of those things.

WERTHEIMER: So what do you think? Do you think that the Senate is going to produce some kind of overhaul of health care despite concerns you have?

Sen. GREGG: I'm presuming something will pass. The president has invested, obviously, his status on public policy in this, and he has super majorities in both the House and the Senate, so I'm presuming something's going to pass, yes.

WERTHEIMER: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. Well, thank you very much for talking to us this morning.

Sen. GREGG: Thank you, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Senator Judd Gregg, a Republican of New Hampshire. He spoke to us from his office on Capitol Hill.

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