Senators Inch Closer To Health Care Fix
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne in Afghanistan.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep in Washington where the future of President Obama's health care proposal is in the hands of a few senators, including the man we'll talk with next. Iowa Republican Charles Grassley is on a key committee, and he's negotiating with Democrats. Senator, welcome back to the program.
Senator CHARLES GRASSLEY (Republican, Iowa): I'm glad to be with you, and can I comment on something you just said in describing the Obama bill?
INSKEEP: Please go ahead.
Sen. GRASSLEY: You know there is no Obama bill and...
INSKEEP: Oh, because he has laid out principles and you guys are writing the legislation.
Sen. GRASSLEY: You bet, and I want to make that clear, because I think the governor or the president has taken this so personal and that's why we're getting a lot of heat from the White House to pass something. And you know, there's a couple of bills out there - the Pelosi bill and the Kennedy bill -that don't do a lot of things that the president wants done, like curbing health care inflation, and it's not revenue neutral, where Senator Baucus and I are trying to work in a bipartisan way to get something that meets the president's goals, that you'll be able to keep the insurance you got - you can keep it. And number two, something that bends the inflation index for health care downward, because both of these other bills do nothing with the long-term inflationary scale we're on for health care.
INSKEEP: Well, give me a bottom line on that, because you and Senator Max Baucus of Montana are writing your own bill, working out your own bill. Do you think it is likely, in the next few days, that you're going to come up with a bill that Democrats, the White House, and possibly some Republicans, could actually support?
Sen. GRASSLEY: Well, don't forget there are three Republicans and three Democrats doing the negotiation.
INSKEEP: Uh uh.
Sen. GRASSLEY: So consequently we have made great progress. Every day we make some progress. Will we get it done so we can get a bill to the other members by this weekend, because there is a certain time you got to give people to study it. We are on the edge and almost there. But we're not - either Republicans or Democrats - are not in occasion of something that deals with life or death, and that's what health care is all about. And we're restructuring one-sixth of the economy and we want to make sure that seniors don't get health care rationed. We think it ought to be done right.
INSKEEP: Well, Senator Grassley, given what you've said that there is a lot of intensity here. What're you saying - what would you say to some of your fellow Republicans who seem to want you to break off negotiations, like Jon Kyl of Arizona, who said that you don't speak for him?
Sen. GRASSLEY: Well, I don't pretend to speak for anybody but Chuck Grassley at this point, except I've been conferring with Republicans throughout the period of time since January with taskforce meetings that the Republican caucus has had, weekly, so that they know what we're thinking about doing. But you really can't tell your colleagues what you've got until you have something and that's what negotiation is all about and...
INSKEEP: Well while you're negotiating, though, Senator, what are you saying to Republicans who have said publicly that they think that this is an opportunity, a political opportunity, to use this issue to break the president?
Sen. GRASSLEY: Well, my answer to anybody that's looking for a political solution is the best policy is the best politics.
INSKEEP: Meaning you would ask your fellow Republicans not to use this as an opportunity to break the president if they can?
Sen. GRASSLEY: I think that anything that's politically motivated, when you're dealing with the life or death situation of every American - and that's what health care is all about - and you're restructuring one sixth of the economy -you ought to be thinking about what you're doing right for the country and not just what's right for your political party.
INSKEEP: There is a Republican consultant - Alex Castellanos - who put out a much publicized memo urging Republicans to use different language and to say that Democrats are plotting to drive up costs and do a government monopoly of health care. Do you believe the Democrats you're negotiating with are secretly plotting to drive up costs and do a government monopoly of health care?
Sen. GRASSLEY: No, just the opposite. But I think I'm right in saying and characterizing the Pelosi bill and the Kennedy bill as doing that. And that's not my judgment, that's a judgment of the nonpartisan director of the Congressional Budget Office, Mr. Elmendorf has flat-out officially said that neither one of those bills drives down the inflationary goals of health care. Now, we haven't - ours hasn't been scored - does it do that. But I'm saying if we don't drive down health care costs we might as well all go home.
INSKEEP: Senator Grassley, thanks very much. Always good to talk with you.
Sen. GRASSLEY: Ok, bye.
INSKEEP: Chuck Grassley of Iowa.
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