McCain: Public Option 'Would Deprive People of Choice'

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: Senator John McCain faced voters at a town hall today in Arizona. Moments ago, Senator McCain went "On the Record."


VAN SUSTEREN: Senator McCain, it's nice to see you, sir.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Greta. It's nice to be with you. I'm sorry I was a few minutes late. There's construction delays. I apologize.

VAN SUSTEREN: I think they call that shovel-ready stimulus projects in some parts of the nation.

MCCAIN: There you go.

VAN SUSTEREN: There you go.

MCCAIN: There you go.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, I heard that you called a town hall meeting -- or actually, I read it -- a "peaceful revolt." Is that what you think these are?

MCCAIN: I think what's happening in the country is a peaceful revolt that has sort of a ignited because of the incredible generational theft we've considered -- we've committed with all the spending and the trillions of dollars of debt, and now a new estimate of $2 trillion more in the next 10 years. And people are very nervous and very upset about that. And then you have a government-mandated health care plan that costs a trillion or two more. And I think Americans are finally, in probably one of the most unusual ways I've ever seen, standing up and saying, "Enough."

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, you had a town hall meeting. Were you able to make them feel any better? You say that they're upset about the projection on the 10-year deficit and health care costs. Did they feel any better after the town hall meeting?

MCCAIN: I don't know if they feel any better. I hope that all of us, including me, gains a better understanding of the issues and challenges that they face, that a public option, which is really government option, is not something that will do anything but lead to a government takeover of health care in America.

They are very concerned, of course, about many aspects of the issue, but the, quote, "public option," and I use quotes because it really is the government option, I think people are really very concerned about.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is there any way you would vote for a health-care reform plan that had a government/public option in it?

MCCAIN: No, I could not do that.

I think the Hippocratic Oath is first do no harm. We would do great harm, because there is no doubt I n my mind that this "public option" would sooner or later takeover of our health care system.

If it was just another insurance policy, then we would have 1,501 opportunities. But really what it is something that over time I think would deprive people of choice.

A young woman stood up at this town hall meeting, and she said, "I get the sense that we are losing our freedom." And in a way, when you're talking about your freedom to choose your health care provider, your doctor, your medicine, and all of those things, in a way, certainly her freedom and many Americans is at risk here.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it's no secret the Democrats has the math in terms of if they wanted to pass if they got all the Democrats in house, actually, they could lose some, and even in the Senate, as well.

Have you spoken to any U.S. senators that have pulled you aside and say, "Listen, I do not like that government/public option either. I do not think I can go for it"?

MCCAIN: A lot of them have pulled me aside. And both Democrats and Republicans have said, can't we work something out. And I think we can.

Look, Medicare is going broke, Social Security is going broke, but Medicare is going broke. And we have to fix it. But we have to fix it through incentives, through rewards, through elimination of waste and mismanagement, for medical malpractice reform, and many other changes that I think we could all unite behind.

But if the Democrats insist on this, quote, "public option," no, I could never support it. It would have to be off of the table.

VAN SUSTEREN: Has President Obama listened to you or Republicans, or is he just saying this is my way, and trying to roll over the Republicans? Or is he listening and considering what you might want to do about this reform?

MCCAIN: I think the president is obviously torn between the left of his party that are saying that there is no solution except for the public option, and then there is of course, the center, it is also becoming more and more nervous because they are hearing from their constituents.

It is not clear to me where the president will go. One of the things he might do is come up with a proposal of his own.

But, again, I repeat. I know that Republicans are willing to try to try to help to put incentives in wellness and fitness, to reform medical malpractice reform, to have a broader choice and range of options, such as purchase of health insurance across state lines and many other changes that I think we can agree on.

But not a big government solution.

VAN SUSTEREN: I suspect that you know better than anyone else about what President Obama said during the election run-up. Is there anything that he is saying or doing now as with regard to healthcare reform that is something you never heard before during the run-up or which is a big change?

MCCAIN: No, except that the president continues to say that if you like your health insurance policy, you can keep it.

And if you have a public option, and some of the proposals that are passed through the Senate health committee that I am a member of and is about to be voted on in the House, you can't keep your health insurance policy. It would fundamentally change.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why does he, -- does he believe that, or just doesn't. Why do you think he is saying that? Because he simply disagrees with you or he has different information or is he just dead wrong? Why is he saying that?

MCCAIN: I think he must have bad information.

And I think that -- I respect the president. I respect the results of the election. The fact is that the president was for this quote "public option" many years ago, and he does have a very liberal, big-government voting record.

And that's where we of fundamental, philosophical differences. I say that with respect.

VAN SUSTEREN: You say fundamental, philosophical different, but we see a lot of them reflected in town who meets. Senator Feingold said earlier that he thought -- I am paraphrasing, these are my words -- but something to the effect that he would be surprised if there were a health care reform bill by Christmas.

Is this going to happen, this health-care bill reform, at least as we know understand it, being a proposal on the table?

MCCAIN: I do not know. I am very disturbed to hear recent -- and it is only in the media, because I am not consulted -- information that perhaps the Democrats would bring up the so-called reconciliation, which means that you can pass significant legislation with only 51 votes.

That would set a terrible precedent. I think it would blow up the Senate. I think it would fundamentally change the way the institution functions.

But I also think the Democrats believe they do not want to repeat the failure of Clinton-care, the proposal by the President and then-Mrs. Clinton, now Secretary of State Clinton, back in 1993, 1994.

So I do not know what they are going to do. But if they go to the 51 vote roots, I think it would have devastating consequences.

VAN SUSTEREN: But there are a lot of even Democratic U.S. senators in favor that. Isn't that right?

MCCAIN: Well, I hope so. I hope so. But I'm not sure. It is obvious that some Democrats have been leaking that that proposal is under consideration.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you very much for joining us, sir.

MCCAIN: Thank you for having me on, Greta. This is one of the most interesting times of all of the years I have been there.

VAN SUSTEREN: It is indeed fascinating. Thank you, sir -- and important, I might add.

MCCAIN: Thank you.


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