Waxman Reacts To State Of The Union Speech

President Obama, in his State of the Union speech Wednesday, reiterated that he was still committed to overhauling the nation's health care system. California Congressman Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, offers his thoughts.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Now a reaction to what President Obama has said last night in his State of the Union about health care and other matters from Representative Henry Waxman. He's the California Democrat who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee and he was very active in developing the House version of a health care overhaul. Welcome to the program once again.

Representative HENRY WAXMAN (Democrat, California): Thank you, pleased to be with you.

SIEGEL: The message from the White House seems to be lets catch our breath on health care and see if the Republicans have any good ideas. Realistically speaking, is there any chance now of getting from where you are now to passing a big health care bill before the 2010 election?

Rep. WAXMAN: I think we will pass a big health care bill. I think the president will insist that we keep the promise. We're going to have to figure out a different route now that we dont have 60 Democrats, but the Republicans are not helping us.

SIEGEL: But given their solid opposition to the Senate bill, which would seem to be an easier pill to swallow than your House bill, are we talking about how hard it is to pass a bill, or rather there's not going to be a bill, lets see whose fault its going to be in the eye of the voters?

Rep. WAXMAN: Well, I think the Republicans started off from the very beginning trying to make sure there was no bill so that Obama, the Democrats would be blamed for failure. And if there was a bill, they would try to stir people up so that they wouldnt like it and they would blame the Democrats for a bill that they might not like in one respect or another.

But what the president set out to do and what he enumerated so clearly - to cover all Americans with health insurance, to hold down the cost of health care so that those who are insured can stop the premium increases, Medicare system would be enhanced and not subject to dramatic reductions because we cant afford it, the deficit would be reduced because health care cost can be contained - these are important objectives. And I think if we are going to still achieve them, well have to use other devices like asking the majority to make a decision in the House and the Senate.

SIEGEL: Through what's called reconciliation. Can the Democrats get a health care bill through the Congress with less than 60 votes in the Senate by using whatever their procedure is of reconciliation? If the poll still show the public opposed to that bill, that is, do you need to see some kind of revival in public opinion of support for what Democrats want in the way of health care in order to proceed further?

Rep. WAXMAN: I think polls reflect public opinion at the moment those polls were taken. And I think the public was outraged at Nebraska getting a special deal, somebody else getting a hospital, the people were going have to pay taxes on their health insurance. And that drove them over the edge after being pounded by the anti-health care propaganda that the political right wing have been funding.

SIEGEL: So if thats the case and those things were taken out of the bill, then you should see result in polls changing and...

Rep. WAXMAN: Well, I think we will. And I think when we get a bill into law and people start understanding whats in the bill, not the few things they dislike but the many things that they will like: People shouldnt be denied coverage because of preexisting conditions. If they cant afford health insurance, well try to help them pay for it. Well get everybody covered and make sure that we can hold down health care costs for the future. There are a lot of very worthwhile and popular things in this bill and we got to get the public to understand that, focus on it, and then I think well see the kind of support that this health care bill deserves.

SIEGEL: But what about your Democratic colleagues who dont come from safe Democratic seats and who have just managed to get into the House, what if they tell you, look, my constituents arent your Californians and we could pass this and then lose the majority because people like me and my fellow blue dogs are going to get voted out of office?

Rep. WAXMAN: I would say to those members that are most worried about it, their districts are the ones that would benefit the most with this health insurance bill because invariably those districts have the largest number of people that are uninsured. And Ill get reelected because my district is very heavily Democratic. But they are not going to get reelected based on going home and telling people: I voted against health care and we got nothing done. I dont think people are going to say: Thats great, I think you are exactly who I want to be in government because you cant get things done.

SIEGEL: Well, Henry Waxman, thank you very much for talking with us.

Rep. WAXMAN: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Congressman Henry Waxman of California, the Democratic chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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