Interviews

'Grandma' Thrown Off Cliff in New Anti-GOP Ad

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST OF “YOUR WORLD”: Now back to that ad and the group that created it.

Erica Payne is single-handedly responsible for destroying this country as we know it.

(LAUGHTER)

ERICA PAYNE, FOUNDER, THE AGENDA PROJECT: Neil.

CAVUTO: OK. That was extreme.

(LAUGHTER)

CAVUTO: This is nuts. You are saying that an attempt to rein in the growth of an entitlement program that, just last week, we found out it’s going to be running out of money five years earlier than we thought is akin to pushing grandma over a cliff.

PAYNE: Well, I’ll tell you what my friend Reverend Jim Wallis says that I think is really important to remember right now.

And that is that a nation’s budget is really a moral document. So, when we sit down and say we’re going to spend money on this and spend money on this, and not spend money on this, these are really moral choices.

CAVUTO: Erica, we’re running out of money.

PAYNE: Well, you know, I will give you a great example of the turkey that makes me crazy, so we both have a dog in the hunt.

A couple months ago, Republicans and Democrats, 200 of them voted to keep building an engine called the F-35 second engine on a fighter plane that George Bush and Obama and Gates didn’t want. That’s $3 billion that could be spent to cover seniors.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: You’re veering off topic. You’re veering off topic.

I’m not here to debate other programs or initiatives. I’m telling you, we have got a program that, by the government’s own estimates, is losing money faster and sooner than we thought. We’re not destroying this program. We’re talking about curtailing the growth of the program.

And, yet, even addressing it -- and you can have your qualms with the details of the Ryan plan or any other plan -- you are -- you are telling anyone who wants to tackle this, this is how we’re going to treat you?

PAYNE: I think that I’m actually doing something different.

What I would like to do -- I think we are in a really important moment in our country.

CAVUTO: You’re fear-mongering, Erica.

PAYNE: And we have important choices to make.

And I want to just make sure that people understand the choices. Look at what is happening. Learn about the issues, and really focus.

CAVUTO: Do you think you elevated the debate with that?

PAYNE: I think what I did was I highlighted that we have got a lot senior citizens who are going to be in a really bad spot if we don’t make the right moral choices in this budget debate.

CAVUTO: But what if we do nothing, Erica? Why don’t you do an ad about if we do nothing? What about those seniors now who are going to face higher costs, higher deductibles, more responsibility for their own coverage if we do nothing?

This is the same group that’s going to be affected by this national health plan that, over the next decade, is going to take half-a-trillion out of Medicare.

Now, you might be right. It might be swept out for something better and nicer. But to say that any effort to rein in the growth of that program is tantamount to killing everyone’s grandma is just wrong.

(CROSSTALK)

PAYNE: So, I’m not saying that an effort to address the challenges that the program faces are wrong.

What I’m saying -- and I think really people need to ask this -- what the Republicans and some Democrats have thought about doing is privatizing Medicare. Now, that sounds good. You think, well, private industry does a good job on things.

My grandmother died when she was 96 years old. There is no profit margin in covering my grandmother when she is in the nursing room, none. There is -- there is -- you cannot find a profitable way to cover my grandmother. So, do we want that put in the private sector, which is driven by profits? Or does that just mean that the costs of paying for my grandmother’s health care is going to have an additional cost of a profit?

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: But that is built into our system now. Whether your grandmother and her state in a nursing care facility paid for by private insurance or Medicare, the same reality is there.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: What I am asking you, this -- you are acting like he’s wanting to privatize the whole system. Believe me, there are many parts of this Ryan plan over which I don’t flip. I agree with you about quibbling over the details.

I am not throwing grandmother over the cliff on the basis of some of our discrepancies, though. What I’m wondering about is how we forward the debate with stuff like this and how a plan that gives older people the right to get vouchers backed and paid for by the United States government, which you’re a big fan of, and also coverage for preexisting and the riskiest conditions, where they can’t be part of this exchange, how that is so end-of-the-world-ish?

PAYNE: So, what a voucher does is, you give me money and then I go out into an exchange and I pick the plan that works best. And that exchange is filled with private insurers who have a profit motive.

And that sounds like it might work. But, again, my 96-year-old grandmother, there is no profit motive in covering her. And I got to tell you, love her to pieces, miss her, but she wasn’t capable at 96 or 86 of going into an exchange. And I can barely sort through the health care plans that I used to cover my employees.

CAVUTO: Well, do you have any more comfort -- well, do you have any more comfort in the president’s plan, 14-advisory-member commission that is going to be essentially making these same decisions?

Because -- because I remember, about a year or so ago, when that commission and its formation were being discussed, it was called a death panel.

PAYNE: Well, I will tell you I personally am much more comfortable with having elected officials or people who are appointed by elected officials to be responsible for helping us make those choices, rather than an accountant...

CAVUTO: Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. You would trust elected officials, who’ve lost more money than companies will ever find, who have the most inefficient system in Medicare today, whose cost overruns have been legendary, who have not been able to exact the cost concessions they had promised or even the president has bragged about, you would trust that over any alternative?

I would take Osama bin Laden’s health plan over that.

PAYNE: So, let me just point out a couple of things which can be surprising to people.

One is that when you look at private health insurance plans, their administrative costs are actually higher than the government-run plans. So, in that instance, the private -- the private sector doesn’t actually work better.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: Erica, I assure you I have been rejected by private insurance companies for coverage. I know all of what you speak. And I’m hardly an endorser of that system entirely.

PAYNE: Right.

CAVUTO: I will say this, though.

In this case, you know that Medicare as it exists is not going to work, that the business math doesn’t favor it. The numbers don’t favor it. So, isn’t it inevitable to say that, that on its present course, you either scale back benefits, force people to pay more, or raise taxes, or a combination of all, to keep it going as you wish?

PAYNE: I think I -- again, I’ll go back to what my reverend friend Jim Wallis says. You know, if I have $100 to spend, and I’m head of a country, I need to make a decision how to allocate that money.

CAVUTO: Focus on decisions. I know we can talk that you don’t like the bombers and the fighter jets. That’s fine.

I’m here to say that the way this system is going right now, it’s losing money faster than me running out of the health food store. It’s not working. It’s not working. The math isn’t there. We have to face that.

And here is a guy. You say what you will of Paul Ryan. I quibble with him on many things. He comes out the gate with a plan. And rather than open the debate to discuss the plan, everyone vilifies it, says he’s a murderer. You say he’s pushing grandma off the cliff.

How is that elevating the debate?

PAYNE: Well, I actually think that we have a democracy for a reason. And the reason that we have a democracy is that -- so all of our citizens...

CAVUTO: You just trashed it in that ad.

(CROSSTALK)

PAYNE: ... so all of our citizens can get involved in these choices.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: Erica, an older person is going to look at that ad and say, oh, my God, they are pushing me off the cliff.

PAYNE: I hope that we’ll all look at that ad and say, this is a really important set of choices that we need to make, and I need to take a minute and really focus on these debates and talk to my elected officials and talk to the experts about what the right thing to do is. This is an important set of choices.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: All right. All right. All right. I think you went a little far, but I think you are very smart and you mean well, even though you are destroying the country.

(LAUGHTER)

CAVUTO: The woman in that ad, was she an older woman?

PAYNE: Oh, yes, yes, yes.

CAVUTO: Was she seriously thrown over a cliff?

(LAUGHTER)

PAYNE: Absolutely not, Neil, you know?

CAVUTO: OK. Good. I just wanted to know.

PAYNE: But you leave it to Paul Ryan, and she might be in the future.

CAVUTO: Oh, here we go.

PAYNE: How’s that?

CAVUTO: Here we go. Here we go. Here we go.

You didn’t this for any of the -- wait until you see the surprises in this health care plan.

(LAUGHTER)

CAVUTO: You’re going to be pushing everyone over the cliff. And you’ll be paying for it.

PAYNE: Neil...

CAVUTO: And you’re happy with that?

PAYNE: ... we’re just going to disagree on this.

I really think that, you know, we have got an obligation to our citizens. And I think about this word entitlement a lot that has become such a villain word. I think my grandmother was entitled to health care.

CAVUTO: Well, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. No, no, no. Wait, wait, wait.

Pam, we’re going on a little longer here.

You just said something that gets to the crux of this debate. You just said that an entitlement, assuming that there is an inherent value in keeping it as is. The problem with keeping it as is, is that we can’t afford it. Now, we can swap out fighter jets and all you want for this, but the growth spectrum it’s on is something that’s unsustainable.

So, are you willing to concede anything, anything at all to correct it?

PAYNE: I am willing to concede the fact that we make a lot of stupid choices in our budget. And those stupid choices are made by both Democrats and Republicans.

CAVUTO: Within Medicare, within a system that is inefficient. See, you can say what you want about, well, private’s inefficiency. You are right about a lot of that. Would you make any concession at all to this program that you love, but we know is going bankrupt?

PAYNE: I will make the concession that I think that we need to find some ways to meet the moral obligations that we have to our seniors. And I don’t believe...

CAVUTO: You’re not -- you know what you’re telling me, Erica? You wouldn’t change a thing. You wouldn’t change a thing.

PAYNE: I wouldn’t do what Paul Ryan plans to do, which is to cut millions of people out of Medicare and make choices in the budget that do not align with my moral architecture.

CAVUTO: Well, you see what I am saying? You see what I am saying?

You know we have got a budget -- moral-schmoral. We’ve got a budget that is out of control, spending that is out of control. Any time we so much as even mention curbing the growth of an entitlement program like Medicare, to say nothing like of Social Security or Medicaid, it hits a buzz saw.

And then you do ads like this that scare the bejesus out of folks of all ages in this country, when you...

PAYNE: But...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: Wait a minute -- when you know that the plan being discussed exempts those 55 and older, and, for those younger, gives them the option, choose what you wish. That never comes up.

PAYNE: I think it sounds -- choose what you wish sounds like a good idea. I stick with the thought that my grandmother at 90 couldn’t have made that choice and build -- you can’t build a profit motive into covering her health care.

CAVUTO: Look, look, you are saying -- all right, you are saying it doesn’t say choose by -- what you wish. You have an ad that is saying, pick your poison. You’re going to die. We can’t continue the debate.

PAYNE: I have an ad that is challenging people to really think about what moral choices they want to make in the budget that the Congress is in the process of debating right now.

And if I had a choice to make, I’m picking the sweet woman who is in this ad over a lot of choices...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: All right. So if the sweet woman is going to get gouged under the health care plan, and she’s going to pay more, will you do a follow-up ad to this when she is being pushed down an embankment?

PAYNE: I tell you what. Let’s -- let’s see where it ends up in a couple years, and I will be happy to do an ad that reflects the reality of the choices we make.

CAVUTO: By then, we will be $2 trillion more in doubt. It might too late.

PAYNE: Neil, I appreciate you talking. It’s a really important issue. Thank you.

CAVUTO: Yes, it is. Too much to trivialize, right?

PAYNE: I completely agree, and one that deserves a lot of attention. And, sometimes, you got to shock people -- shock people to bring them up.

CAVUTO: Oh, man, oh, man. Erica, I love you dearly -- I love you dearly, but it’s clear you are going to go to hell now.

(LAUGHTER)

CAVUTO: I kid. I kid.

(LAUGHTER)

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