Democratic Sen. Brown On Health Care Bill

Sen. Sherrod Brown discusses the latest developments in health care legislation. The Ohio Democrat supported a public option and the proposal to let Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 buy into Medicare, two items no longer included in the health care bill.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And we're going to hear now from one of the Senate Democrats who was at that White House meeting today. He is Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Welcome back to the program, Senator.

Senator SHERROD BROWN (Democrat, Ohio): Glad to be on, thank you.

BLOCK: With the Senate now dropping the public option, dropping the expansion of Medicare that you championed, are these compromises, do you think, big enough that they fundamentally undermine the bill emerging from the Senate?

Sen. BROWN: I start most of what you're saying how disappointed I am because there are - when I think about the Medicare buy-in, a 59-year-old worker in Lima, Ohio that lost her job and lost her insurance or a 62-year-old worker in Youngstown that can't get insurance because of a preexisting condition. We had a chance to help them at no cost to government, let them buy into Medicare. We're still trying to get that as part of the bill. Senator Lieberman says no, we're going to continue to try.

But I'm disappointed with this bill, as Senator Durbin said, this bill has a lot of things in it that are really, really important. It insures 30 million people. The insurance consumer protections are stronger by far than they've ever been. No more denying somebody for a preexisting condition. No more women paying more than men for the same policy that people did of the man and a woman the same age. No more cutting insurance off because - a lifetime cap - because someone was sick and expensive over their lifetime and the insurance gets canceled.

So, there are lot of really good things in this bill. I'm just disappointed that it's not as good as it could be, but we're going to keep trying.

BLOCK: You say you're disappointed. A few weeks ago, you seemed to indicate that if there were no public option in the bill, you would oppose it. You said there's no negotiations, as far as I'm concerned, this bill is not going to continue to become more pro-insurance company, end of story. Doesn't seem like it was the end of the story. Why the change of heart?

Sen. BROWN: Well, unfortunately, it's not the end of story. I never said I would vote against it. I never said I will draw a line in the sand. I did say I'm done negotiating the public option. I was hopeful that Senator Lieberman and others, but it's not really about any individual senator, but I was hopeful that they all wanted to be on the right side of the history and they would vote to stop the filibuster.

I go back six years ago when the Republicans jammed through the drug and insurance company bailout, the Medicare privatization issue. The Medicare modernization act, it was called, seven Republicans, including three who are in the Senate right now, voted for cloture and then voted against the bill. That bill wasn't paid for. It violated everything the Republicans say they stood for - while they hit us on a bill that is actually paid for, that bill wasn't paid for, and adds a trillion dollars in debt to the national deficit over the national debt over the next ten years.

And I'm just still hopeful that the people that believe in this bill generally, even if they have problems, will vote for cloture and then if they want to vote against the bill, fine. But that's why I'm not giving up on the Medicare buy-in or on improving this bill.

BLOCK: It doesn't sound like the Senate leadership is with you on that one. It seems like they have given up on it. But I'm curious what you make of the role of Joseph Lieberman here. There's video of him from a few months back supporting a Medicare buy-in. Now he's saying he'll join in a Republican filibuster if it's in the bill. Has he, do you think, hijacked health care overhaul?

Sen. BROWN: Well, he's made it a very difficult, much more difficult job to get a good bill. This bill would be better if Senator Lieberman would vote for cloture because it's got a lot of things he says. He said at the White House today, it's got a lot of good things in it. We can make a significantly better bill if he would vote for cloture, but any one Senator can hijack it. I'm not willing to because even though I am not satisfied with this bill, I'm disappointed in the direction it's going now.

Although, I still think, as I said, it's a very good bill or good bill, if not, very good bill. I'm not willing to risk killing the whole thing by holding out and doing what some others have done and that's really the story.

BLOCK: So the message from Howard Dean that we just about heard about in Mara Liasson's piece, you say, don't kill the bill. It's not worth it to do that.

Sen. BROWN: No, if we killed the bill, then we have 30 - we were insuring 30 million people. We are getting these insurance reforms. We're saying that a young man or woman who is 23, 24, and 25 years old can stay on their parents' insurance, when, now, generally they're cut off. We have prevention and wellness things. We have breaks for small business. So, they can do what they want to do - ensure their employees. And in no way should we just give up on the bill and pass nothing. We won't get another chance for a long time to do something this significant.

That historical context the president put in, you know, keep in mind, 40 years ago when Medicare passed, there was very little Republican support for it. It was very difficult to do. This is difficult - of course it is, but it's something that we're elected to do. It's what I ran on in my state in Ohio in 2006. And this is our chance - best chance we've had in a generation.

BLOCK: And briefly, senator, the argument from the White House that we heard about from Mara just now that even without a government public option, that the insurance industry will have internal competition among themselves. Do you buy that?

Sen. BROWN: I buy that because - no, I don't buy that the competition matters much because it hasn't in the past. I do buy that if we can get a - we still think in this bill we can have national not-for-profit. It's what some countries do. They typically have not-for-profits running their insurance system - that will help. The medical loss ratio - we hope to get it to 85 or 90 percent. That will help - and most importantly, the insurance reforms. Again, no more preexisting condition exclusion, no discrimination against women, no cutting off somebody because they've been too expensive in their health care. Those are the most important things.

Don't underestimate how important these rules are. Finally the insurance companies, I mean, they are always - they try to be a step out of sheriff. I mean, they're good at that, but the sheriff's in town now and it's going to be a much harder thing for them.

BLOCK: Well, Senator Brown, Sheriff Brown, thank you very much.

Sen. BROWN: Thanks.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: That's Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio.

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