This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," August 25, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: RNC chairperson Michael Steele joins us live. Nice to see you, Chairman.
MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: Hey, it's good to see you, Greta.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, what is this "bill of rights" that you've unleashed? And -- well, let me just start there. What is this "bill of rights"?
STEELE: Well, the "bill of rights" is really kind of a placeholder as we begin the fall discussion on health care. We watched at the beginning of the spring and summer the administration say we were going to have a health care bill by July 31 with no real input or discussion by the American people, let alone the Republican members of Congress. They were going to try to get it done by then. We raised some concerns and we talked a little bit more about it and laid out clearly what we thought we should be doing.
Town halls began to take place as citizens began to get ahold of it. And in the process of this discussion, the one thing that struck me that was being left behind was our seniors. When the administration's kind of slipped out there the idea of cutting $500 billion from the Medicare program with no indication of whether that's going to be cutting waste or if that's going to be cutting the substance of programs or what that was, I thought it would be appropriate to put a placemaker out here to very clearly delineate what we should be doing and how we should be doing it on behalf of the seniors as we begin this debate in the fall.
So I wanted to lay out about six principles that kind of talked about the -- you know, the doctor-patient relationship, the role of government, the decision-making process involving seniors or their caregivers, and I wanted to be as fairly clear as I could about it.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, but this -- so this is not an exact answer to the 1,500-page bill that the Democrats have put forward. This is sort of just your principles of how you and the Republican Party would like to see things proceed, so just broad-based principles, right?
STEELE: It's broad-based principles and -- and the Republican leadership in the House and the Senate will come back with the legislative, you know, bills and amendments to the HR 3200 or whichever bill the House and Senate are going to be working on, to put into law those guidelines or those protections, if you will, for our seniors.
VAN SUSTEREN: Are the Republicans sort of sitting back, waiting to see what the Democratic bill is so they can then punch some holes in it or rewrite it, or are they -- or are they writing their own, saying, Look, scrap the Democrats. This is the bill we should have.
STEELE: Well, I think -- well, this is -- that's a very good question, Greta, and I'll tell you why, because between the House and the Senate, there have been over 800 pieces of legislation and amendments to various bills introduced by Democrats in the House and the Senate that have been rejected outright. So they've tried that, writing the bill, if you will, or putting their input into the documents that have been produced, and it has all been rejected.
So I think in this instance, what I thought was, Let's put a placemarker in place, then let's just follow back up. And now that the rhetoric has heated up from the American people, maybe the House leadership will pay attention to what Republicans want to put on the table because, quite frankly, I'm sick and tired of all this conversation about all bipartisanship and bipartisanship that, when, in fact, the House and Senate leadership are not doing anything to bring Republicans to the table in any meaningful way, and the president is giving lip service to this idea, when he's not encouraging, and in fact, demanding that we work together in bipartisan fashion on this problem.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Now, I understand that a lot of Republicans want reform. In fact, most have said some reform is needed. I understand that they don't like the public option, or the government option. I understand that they say there's no bipartisanship. But can you sort of, you know -- you know, bring me in on the secret why the Republicans didn't do health care reform when they owned the House, the Senate and the White House? Do you have any idea?
STEELE: No, I don't have an idea, and I think, you know, again, it's one of those -- those flaws of the past that, you know, we tripped ourselves up on. We had a perfect opportunity even when we didn't have control of the House and Senate during the early days of the Bush -- of Bush first term to at least put in place some of the -- some of the efforts to put, you know, our imprimatur, if you will, on the health care debate.
But that's the past. And I understand that. I'm now the new chairman of the party. We've got, you know, leadership in the House and the Senate that we're working with. We've got governors around the country who deal with this health care issue every single day, from Mississippi to Indiana to Louisiana. They're fighting to try to balance those budgets with the cost of health care escalating. And so now is an opportunity for us to engage in a genuine way.
I will applaud the administration for putting this on the table. What I do not applaud is the way they want to go about reforming our health care system when, in fact, the parts that they want to reform and don't need it, and the parts like Medicare that do need to be addressed, they're kind of slipping off to the side because everyone knows there's no money here, Greta, in about six or seven years. And so with all this spending now, where will the money come from to deal for our seniors in about six years when there is no money for Medicare?
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, I understand at the town hall meetings, basically, the American people -- some American people it's opportunity to make their politicians listen to them. And sometimes they turn up the temperature, turn up the volume a little bit. Do you have the sense that the Democratic Party, and I guess specifically the president as the leader, is listening and considering what the Republicans might have to offer, or is this sort of, like, We know best, and tough, take it or leave it, this is the way it's going to be, and now sort of a battle has been engaged?
STEELE: I think it's the latter, Greta. I think it's the take-it-or- leave-it -- leave it -- I think the president set the tone at the very beginning of the stimulus debate when he said, I won, which told everybody in the room where this was going to go and how it was going to go. So I get that. But don't then come back when the citizens of this country rise up because of the arrogance of your power, use of power, the arrogance of the policies you're putting in place, to say, That's not what we want, to say that there's an orchestrated effort by Republicans to undermine this, when, in fact, that's not the case.
And only today, we find out, in fact, the DNC is planning to do the very thing they have accused us of over the last few weeks by orchestrating a thousand, you know, town halls or event over the next week, using SEI -- you know, the unions and the Moveon.org-type organizations to help them coordinate a response. So if -- you know, this is a very interesting dynamic, I find, right now, that the Democrats are doing what they have accused us of over the last week, when what we've witnessed, Greta -- and you've talked about it, as has many others, is this is coming from the people. Their concern is manifest at this point, and this administration is choosing to call them out of touch or calling them hooligans or un- American, and that's just not the appropriate way to do this.
VAN SUSTEREN: As the head of the Republican Party, are you likely to lose, like, let's say Senator Olympia Snowe, a Republican from Maine? Are you likely to lose her to the Democratic side of this discussion? And have you spoken to her?
STEELE: I have not spoken to Senator Snowe in a while, particularly since they've been out, but I hope not. I think, you know, Senator Snowe and Senator Collins and others, who I understand, you know, come some from -- from some very difficult parts of the country in terms of being a Republican running for elective office.
But I think on this issue, I think the philosophy is right. I think politics is right. And I think the opportunity is right to really define this in terms of a patient-doctor relationship with as little intrusion from the federal government as possible. And I think Senator Snowe and others will understand that. And their people back at home, most importantly, will understand that. They're having town halls up in Maine and in parts of New England, as well. And it's no less exciting, if you will, out there as it is anywhere elsewhere around the country.
VAN SUSTEREN: Chairman Steele, thank you, sir.
STEELE: Hey, thank you, Greta.
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