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Is Health Care Reconciliation Inevitable?

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," March 2, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Earlier we went to Capitol Hill, and Republican Senator John Thune went "On the Record."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, nice to see you, sir.

SEN. JOHN THUNE, R - S.D.: Nice to be with you, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is reconciliation inevitable at this point?

THUNE: It would appear so. It looks like that they've made a decision they're going to press on with this. And my expectation is that they're going to try and pass the Senate bill through the House, take a reconciliation vehicle, pass it, try and get it through the House and then send it to the Senate. And what they can do in the House under the rules, I think, is marry those two up. They can take the Senate bill and the reconciliation bill, put them together so that everybody can say they voted to fix the problems that they had with the Senate bill.

I still think it creates a lot of problems when it comes back to the Senate because there will be lots of points of order that will lie (ph) against the bill in the Senate, and obviously, we will, hopefully, have the opportunity to raise some of those.

VAN SUSTEREN: But is it over in the sense that, you know, once -- because they are the majority party, that once they make that decision of reconciliation, there's really nothing the minority party can do? I mean, do you have to just basically live with this?

THUNE: Well, you know, I don't want to concede that it's going to pass for sure yet. I still think that there's a lot of clock to -- in this -- left in this game. And it seems to me, at least, that in the House, they have a pretty heavy lift to get a lot of these Democrats who voted against this last time to vote for it, or even those who voted for it to stay with them because it will be hard to do some of the things that they did in the House bill to get it back through the Senate -- for example, the abortion language, which Bart Stupak and some of his House members want to have in there. Keeping that...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, even worse than that is the Nebraska language. I mean, the Senate bill that was passed gave Nebraska, what, $300 million?

THUNE: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: So in order for the House to pass that, the House has to say, yes, we're fine on it, and we're going to hope later that it'll be fixed in reconciliation. Isn't that essentially it?

THUNE: It is, except I think what they'll try and do over there -- and procedurally, they have the latitude in the House to do this -- is take the reconciliation bill in the House, start it in the House, marry it up under the rule that they will pass with the Senate bill so it's one vote. And then they will bifurcate those later, and when it comes to the Senate, the reconciliation bill will come to the Senate, the Senate bill -- passed bill will go to the White House for the president to wait until the reconciliation bill catches up with it.

It's all kind of arcane Washington-speak. But the point is, it will be very hard to keep certain things, like the abortion language, if they put that fix in the reconciliation bill in the House, when it gets to the Senate, that's something that would be very difficult to withstand a point of order if it's raised against it in the Senate.

So I guess what I'm telling you is, if I were a House member and I was counting on the Senate to pass a reconciliation bill that's going to fix all these problems, like the "Cornhusker kickback," like the abortion language and these other things, it's going to be really hard, I think, to keep many of those provisions in the Senate reconciliation bill when it gets here.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do the Republican senators have strategy meetings in anticipation of this? Are you -- are you meeting with other senators, saying, you know -- you know, This is how we're going to proceed and this is what we're going to do?

THUNE: It is. I think we have to be prepared for all types of different scenarios and sort of game this out. I mean, our goal at the end is to stop a really bad bill from passing. I mean, we think this is a disaster for the American people. And the American people think that, which is why they've weighed in so heavily against it. But they seem intent on trying to jam this thing through under this process, which is the most partisan, I think, thing that they can do, and the reason they're resorting to it because they have to, to get the votes. And I think the American people are rejecting that.

So my guess is, before this is all said and done, that if they want to pass it, they may be able to pass it, but we're going to do everything we can on the side of the American people to try and stop a really bad bill from passing.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, tomorrow the president's going to unveil his newest suggestion or his newest bill. And what's anticipated, he's going to incorporate a number of the Republican ideas that he heard at the Blair House last week. Does that in some ways, though, tactically sort of checkmate the Republicans? Because he now says, Look, you know, you wanted bipartisan, we're incorporating some of the ideas. So why won't you vote for it?

THUNE: Well, our view of bipartisanship is, you know, 40-60, or something like that, not 97 percent his stuff and 3 percent ours. Yes, he's going to throw some crumbs to us and say -- with window dressing, say that somehow, he's given Republicans some things that they want.

But what he's talking about doing in the letter he submitted to the Hill today was, you know, this whole issue of medical malpractice reform. He will tweak that a little, but they're not going to do anything meaningful on that issue and they're not going to do anything meaningful on most of the issues that we care about, and frankly, that we think actually bend the cost curve down.

The bill that has passed in the Senate and that the House will be considering, according to the Congressional Budget Office, according to the actuary for the Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services, actually increases spending on health care over the next decade, rather than decreasing it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it's sort of interesting, though, from a purely tactical point of view, though, is it seems like they'll sort of be able to checkmate you on saying, you know, I gave you what you wanted, or some of what you wanted. We've given up something. You get something. On the other hand, so while they're sort of riding high on that, they've got to deal with the challenge that they couldn't pass it when they had the super- majority in the Senate and they had to lose an election and have to do this by default, go into reconciliation. So they've got to defend against that.

THUNE: They do. And I think that the base bill that they're going to try and pass through this process just has so many flaws in it -- you can't get away from the fact that it raises taxes, that it cuts Medicare and at the end of the day, it doesn't do anything to reduce premiums for most Americans. I mean, there are some who will get the subsidies under the insurance exchanges and will get some relief that way. But for the most part, if you're an average American, and particularly if you buy in the individual marketplace, your insurance premiums are going to go up, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

And I think they have a big challenge ahead of them trying to sell something to the American people, even if they say, OK, Republicans, we've given you a few things. At the end of the day, it still is a really bad bill which they're going to say, Well, we've improved it a little bit. Well, we don't think improving a really bad bill that massively expanses the size of government and that raises taxes on small businesses, and at the end of the day, raises premiums on most Americans, is something that most Americans are going to think is a good idea, notwithstanding some of the ideas that he may try to improve that Republicans have offered.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you, sir.

THUNE: Thanks, Greta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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