Republican Rallies Party To Wage Debate

There's a memo circulating around Capitol Hill and all over the Internet. It's addressed to Republicans and insists the minority party "must use the tools we have under Senate rules to insist on a full, complete and fully-informed debate on health care legislation." Those tools include quorum calls, points of order and filibusters. Host Scott Simon speaks with the author of that memo, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.).

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

There's a memo circulating around Capitol Hill, all over the Internet these days, addressed to Republican senators, that insists the minority party, quote, must use the tools we have under Senate rules to insist on a full, complete and fully informed debate on health care legislation. These tools include quorum calls, points of order and filibusters, all of which could bring the Senate business to a crawl.

Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire wrote that memo. He joins us now from the Senate. Senator Gregg, thanks so much for being with us.

Senator JUDD GREGG (Republican, New Hampshire): Scott, thanks for having me on.

SIMON: Is it a fair interpretation to say these are all tips for how to slow down the Senate?

Sen. GREGG: It's an absurd interpretation. When a bill comes to the floor of the House, the Rules Committee determines how long it will be debated, how many amendments will be allowed. On this bill, the most important piece of legislation, domestic legislation, we will ever undertake, the House allowed one amendment - one. The Senate doesn't work that way.

As George Washington said, the Senate is the saucer into which the hot coffee is poured. Our purpose is to basically be more deliberative, try to air the bill out, try to improve the bill, try to make it a better piece of legislation than the one that was drafted behind closed doors and is so big. I mean, it costs a billion dollars a page.

SIMON: Senator Gregg, any one or two things you've noticed in this bill you'd like to point out to us?

Sen. GREGG: There are ways to improve health care. There are ways to get health care costs under control and also deliver better health care. But CBO has told us this bill does nothing, absolutely nothing, to get health care costs under control. In fact, under this bill, health care costs to the federal government go up, they go up. They don't go down.

Now, the president said when we started this debate he had three goals. One, get everybody covered. Two (unintelligible) health care costs. Three, make sure that if you had an insurance that you like, that you were comfortable with, you didn't lose it. All three of those tests have failed under this bill.

The purpose of this bill at its core is to expand the size of government and to basically put government into a controlling situation in health care, pushing us down a path towards what I call, what we all know to be, a single payer system like they have in Canada and England, which I think undermines health care. I mean, those systems have rationing, they have delays, they have lack of innovation, all - they have a very severely restricted health care system. I don't think we want that, and we don't have to have it.

SIMON: Did the Congressional Budget Office also say that it didn't think that this bill would increase the deficit over a 10-year period?

Sen. GREGG: Yes, but that involved massive chicanery of the shell game nature. In the first 10 years, the tax increases, which are very significant in this bill - in the first 10 years they're around $700 billion - they start on day one. But the programs, the brand new entitlements, they don't start until the fourth and fifth year.

So you've got four and five years of spending matched against 10 years of revenue and ten years of spending cuts in Medicare. So they were able to claim that they were in balance. In fact, when Senator Reid allegedly sent this bill initially to CBO, he had the program starting in the third year, because he thought that would be when he'd be able to hit balance. Turns out the CBO came back and said, no, you don't get balance then 'cause your spending is too high. So he just moved spending back a year.

I mean, if Bernie Madoff did this - I mean, Bernie Madoff did do this by the way, this is exactly what Bernie Madoff did. I mean, as a very practical matter, this is Bernie Madoff accounting, and it's really highly inappropriate.

SIMON: But once again, to point to the obvious, aren't there - at least every public opinion survey I've seen - suggests that a majority of the American public also want a public option for health care.

Sen. GREGG: Well, a public option is not something I think most Americans would want if they take a look at it. And I haven't seen studies that show that most people want to be under a Canadian or English system. A public health care system absolutely leads to a deterioration of health care generally for the American public if everybody's forced into it.

SIMON: This finally, Senator, what priority do you put on covering the tens of millions of Americans who presently don't have health coverage, don't have health care?

Sen. GREGG: It's critical, it's absolutely critical. And I've got a proposal to do that. The Widen Bennett proposal, which I'm a co-sponsor, does that. Senator Coburn and Senator Burr have a proposal that does that. But you don't have to nationalize the system to do that. You simply don't.

SIMON: Senator Judd Gregg, senior Republican member of the Senator Budget Committee, thanks so much for all your time.

Sen. GREGG: Thank you, Scott. Appreciate your time.

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