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All-Star Panel: Future of ObamaCare mandates?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," April 3, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you agree with Mr. Gibbs that the employer mandate is something -- we've already seen delayed twice -- is something that will ultimately never be in place?

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't. As the final rules put out in February made clear, this will be phased in starting next year. I know having spent time on the -- at the pundits' table prior to my life here, you know, you can make predictions all the time that turn out not to be true.

DOUGLAS HOTLZ-EAKIN, FORMER CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE DIRECTOR: It is true that businesses are struggling with the high cost of health insurance, but this makes it worse. So it will accelerate whatever they were doing already, and the things they were doing was making their employees pay more of the cost, giving them less generous insurance, hiring fewer people, or getting out of the business of providing health insurance. And none of those are good news for the average American.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER: What they are talking about there, Robert Gibbs, the former press secretary for the president, said this at a speech last night, quote, "I don't think the employer mandate will go into effect. It's a small part of the law. I think it will be one of the first things to go." There's a debate whether it's a small part of the law or not.
   
Let's bring in our panel, Tucker Carlson, host of "Fox & Friends Weekend," Nina Easton, columnist for Fortune magazine, and Juan Williams, columnist with The Hill. OK, Tucker, the Rand Corporation has calculated repealing the mandate will mean $149 billion in lost federal revenue over 10 years.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: That's true, and I think it will happen. But that's not the only effect. This will be the first domino to fall. Once you fail to enact or repeal the corporate mandate, then you can't have an individual mandate. You can't defend the individual mandate once you don't require businesses. And at that point the whole system falls apart because unless you compel healthy people to buy in, they won't. And when they don't buy in, that means insurance companies will be unable mathematically to turn a profit. They will go out of business. When that happens, you just put the population on Medicare. I mean, you'll wind up with single payer. So this is the beginning of the end for the entire ObamaCare law. There is no other way to see it that I'm aware of.

BAIER: Is there another way to see it, Juan?

JUAN WILLIAMS, SENIOR EDITOR, THE HILL: Oh, yeah. The fact is, as Gibbs said at the time, he said this is really a small thing. What he said was, he's just talking about common sense tweaks that they can make to improve the law. And, you know, his feeling was, look, already what we're talking about here is for companies that have more than 50 people, and it's a mandate for them to provide coverage for their full-time employees. And already it's overwhelming 90 percent plus of those companies do provide.
So what we're talking about what happens for people with fewer than 50 and whether someone would not hire additional employees to go over the 50 mark if they don't provide that coverage next?

BAIER: Or we're talking about companies that decide it's more cost effective for them to put their people in the exchange and pay the fine.

WILLIAMS: Correct.

BAIER: Rather than -- and then you're talking about --

WILLIAMS: Well, that would be -- you mean people who would drop below the
50 level?

BAIER: No, no, no. I'm talking about companies that decide it's more cost effective to not provide the insurance --

WILLIAMS: Yeah.

BAIER: -- to get those people back into the exchange and pay the fine so that so thereby they lose --

WILLIAMS: That's possible, for companies with less than 50 employees who are not currently covered by the mandate, yes. That's all prospective, as if we could think about how is an employer going to react.

BAIER: But even above 50, Juan.

WILLIAMS: They already overwhelmingly, as I said, provide health care coverage for people who are full-time employees.

NINA EASTON, COLUMNIST, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: Well, I actually -- I think it's -- like Tucker, sort of a back door way to move towards a single payer system that the left wanted in the first place, but for a very different reason and I don't -- I disagree with your analysis. I think what's going to happen, if there is -- let's just say there is no employer mandate. Let's say they get rid of it. Companies are already -- the trajectory is fewer and fewer offering insurance. They don't have to offer insurance. They are going to end up dumping those people on to the exchanges.

And it's actually in the administration's self-interest to have those people on the exchanges because they are -- it's a healthier population and it's more able-bodied population, and it will keep premiums down and it will actually help them with their ObamaCare exchanges. So they actually kind of I think have a self-interest in having this happen.

CARLSON: That may be true, but here's the case that's impossible to make politically. Hey, Mr. 27-year-old Obama voter, employers aren't required to participate, but you are. You who are statistically very unlikely to need health care coverage are going to have to pay in because of older people who are, you know, overweight or smoke or whatever. You're carrying the burden for the rest of the population and it's required. We're going to punish you if you don't participate, but, by the way, employers don't have to. There is just no way that can stand. People won't put up with it.

Keep in mind, one of the many reasons Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic nomination in '08 is she was for the individual mandate in public, and now President Obama, before he changed his view, was against it. People don't like the individual mandate on principle.

BAIER: In the meantime, the House of Representatives today passed this bill requiring 40 hours to be considered the standard for full-time work under ObamaCare. The Affordable Care Act requires companies with more than 50 full-time companies to provide insurance, but the law describes full-time as 30 hours a week. The vote was 248-179. Take a listen to the debate today. Here's Dave Camp.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DAVID CAMP, R - MI: If you really cared about the deficit, and we know what ObamaCare does in the long term, it increases the deficit hugely, you would support this bill so that you can get a job, a job that you can work 40 hours, that you can increase your income, and then you can pay taxes on that income, and then our economy and our country will be better off and the American dream won't be in jeopardy.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY, D - VA: How about the fact that 7.1 million Americans have enrolled in this program you don't like, that you want to call a failure? And 7.1 million of our fellow Americans beg to differ.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: So it went back and forth like that, Republicans and Democrats. Nina the point Dave Camp is making is that you can't call 30 hours full-time. The House passes this bill, it's not going to go anywhere in the Senate.

EASTON: And they are trying to -- they are trying to reduce the burden on business. I mean, everybody is concerned, especially the business community, that ObamaCare is keeping the economy -- holding the economy back and potentially reducing the number of jobs that are available. But, again, that's not going to go anywhere.
   
And, you know, politically I think this year, in 2014, if we're just looking towards the midterm elections, I think it's -- Republicans should be careful not to overestimate the impact of ObamaCare, because what this administration has done is very carefully -- pushing off the business mandate, it's a big part of it -- they have taken all the headlines out and pushed it into 2015 and 2016.

BAIER: Sure.

EASTON: If you don't have that drumbeat every day of disasters happening and they push off the potential cancellations further, it's -- it potentially takes away more of the hostility toward ObamaCare that's going to motivate voters in 2014.

BAIER: But just like the entitlement issue, Juan, it is still looming, and people see it out there. It's coming. Something is not going to -- you know, there's still bad stuff that potentially happens around this law despite all the euphoria in the Rose Garden the other day.

WILLIAMS: Well, I think in the short run, first of all, Republicans are very reluctant to acknowledge, gee, what a big week this was for ObamaCare, and it's a real victory given a fact that a third of the enrollment period was squandered on the problems with the computers that they got to 7 million, and secondly, that the number of uninsured in the country has dropped.

So I think Republicans think, well, yeah, but in the long term what about this and what about that? Some of it is real and I think that's what Gibbs was trying to say in his comments before this health care conference, that there need to be small fixes here and there. The employer mandate may be part of it.

(CROSSTALK)

BAIER: But they have changed it 26 times so far. I mean, this would be a big fix. This would be a big change.

WILLIAMS: Right.

CARLSON: By the way, are these the right metrics? I thought at the beginning of this whole debate, back when the president gave his first speech to the joint session of Congress, he said we need a law that will provide health care for everyone more cheaply and more effectively, that is to say, it has better outcomes. What incentives are we setting up for doctors? In 20 years, will we have the number of qualified people in medical? Who's going to want to be a doctor? Will outcomes for cancer be as good as they are today? Like, that's how in the end it will be judged. Will it make people healthier at a better price? No, no chance.

WILLIAMS: How is that? If you give people preventive care, if have you hospitals, not only hospitals but doctors providing care on a more cost-efficient and effective basis, this is all good. If you drive down the cost of health care for Americans who are right now oftentimes bankrupted on a personal level, I think these are good things.

CARLSON: Name the country where that's happened. Is there a country where the government has taken over health care systems have better outcomes for prostate or breast cancer treatment?

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS: I don't those numbers in front of me. But you can go north to Canada, or you can go over to England and they're very proud of their system.

BAIER: Last thing, Nina, it's been changed 26 times, maybe 27 times, but nothing involving Congress.

EASTON: That's right. I mean, all of this is backdoor, and, again, this is potentially getting to a single payer system backdoor.

BAIER: Next up, the Fort Hood shootings and the fallout.

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