The Future of the Health Care Bill, From One Democrat's Point of View

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," February 11, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: And Democratic congressman Chris Van Hollen says, in essence, Don't blame me. What's he talking about? You'll find out in a minute.

Earlier, Congressman Van Hollen went "On the Record" about the future of the health care bill.


VAN SUSTEREN: President Obama said he's not going to depart from the existing two bills in the House and the Senate, and the Republicans say that that's a non-starter. So how do we sort of get traction and get a real discussion and dialogue going? Because the two sides seem to be at odds.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, D - MD: Well, I think what we have to do is agree on the objectives that we've got. And what the president has said is his objective is to make sure that we bring down premiums, that we deal with the health care in a way that reduces the deficit and that we cover many people who are not covered today because at the end of the day, they are costing all of us more in the system because they're going to the hospital emergency rooms for their first line of preventive care, as opposed to getting health care through the primary care doctors, as most people do.

So if we can agree on what the objectives are, then we should be able to move forward. And the bills that we passed in the House and the Senate meet the objectives that have been set out by the president, and also, I must say, the objectives that some of our colleagues on the Republican side said that they want to meet, as well.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, that seems like such a no-starter (SIC) because that's not the way the Republicans feel. They say you can't even get that bill passed. And you know, the president had the White House, the Congress and a filibuster-proof Senate and still couldn't get it passed. So it's -- it's not particular attractive, and the polls are going down. So is it really so smart to draw a line in the sand and say that's where we start?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, what the polls show is that most of the American people like the components that are in the House and the Senate bill. What happened is in the negotiations that went back and forth and then the special deal they put in in the Senate for the Nebraska deal, which even Senator Nelson says he doesn't want now, people got understandably upset about some of the provisions that were in the bill, the deal-making.

I think that if we can take a step back and focus on the major components which the public does like, then we can begin to move forward, and I think the votes would be there in the Senate. Clearly, the president's expressed an interest in getting Republicans on board, but he also has said that the main thing we need to do is to get health care reform done in a way that serves the interests of the American people, bringing down the costs.

VAN SUSTEREN: You mentioned the deal Senator Ben Nelson had in the Senate. And of course, I'm not saying you're part of it. You're in the House. But what did you think when that went down, when you heard about the sort of carve-out, the special deal for Nebraska? Did you know at that point, like, Uh-oh, now we got trouble?

VAN HOLLEN: None of us thought that was a good idea. In fact, Senator Nelson says that was not...

VAN SUSTEREN: Now he says that.

VAN HOLLEN: He says it was not his idea, and he wrote to the president saying he doesn't want to take that approach. Yes, that's the kind of thing that raises questions in the mind of the public, and understandably so. You shouldn't have special deals that benefit just one state to the exclusion of others.

And I think that has created part of the problem with the perception of the bill, which is why I think it's important to get back to the fundamentals about what we're trying to accomplish -- reduce premiums, bring down the deficit, try and expand coverage in a way that prevents all of us from having to pick up the tab for the people that don't have it today.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it's sort of hard to understand whether this is a -- these are great bills or not when there's a lot of mystery associated with it. There are a huge number of pages. You've got the president meeting last summer behind closed door with the drug industry. You've got the special deal to Senator Ben Nelson. You've got the special deal for labor union.

Now, this will be televised. Will you urge the president to explain the deal, why the drug industry got the special deal, explain why the unions get a special deal?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think the president has said he's committed to transparency in this process and...


VAN HOLLEN: Well, to be fair, Greta, to be fair, this has been one of the most open and transparent processes in the history of congressional...

VAN SUSTEREN: In the House.

VAN HOLLEN: ... legislative...

VAN SUSTEREN: In the House and in the Senate, and C-Span has always been part of, you know, televising the House and in the Senate. But the problem is that some of the deals -- as transparent as you are, some of the important deals weren't transparent.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, some of the deals that were supposedly cut by the White House were actually not followed by the House. I mean, we went about putting together a bill that we thought met the needs of the American people when it came to health care. So whatever deals may have been made earlier in the process, in the House, we started from scratch and we...

VAN SUSTEREN: So don't blame you.


VAN SUSTEREN: Don't blame you guys.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, in the House, we started from scratch. We had our committee hearings. We had the mark-up. They were all televised. They were all on C-Span. Some amendments the Republicans offered passed, some failed. So it went through the normal process. But I think it is a good idea to have everybody together at the White House to have that kind of exchange of ideas that the president and the Republican conference had recently in Baltimore.

VAN SUSTEREN: And let me just make plain, you know, I'm not blaming the House for what happens in the Senate or what happens at the White House, you know, in terms of transparency, so it...

VAN HOLLEN: I hear you.

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm not blaming you guys for...

VAN HOLLEN: I appreciate that.

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm not blaming you for that. All right, now, public option, gone?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, in the House, we really wanted to have a public option for...

VAN SUSTEREN: But is it gone?

VAN HOLLEN: ... for greater competition and choice. I think it's clear that it wasn't going to fly in the Senate. So unfortunately, that's not likely to be part of a package.

VAN SUSTEREN: In terms of the ultimate bill and the -- well, let me ask you about the February 25th meeting. What are the odds that something is going to come out of it that is going to be sort of something we can all agree on?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, we all hope that that exchange of ideas will move the process forward. Obviously, we don't know until everybody gets in the room together and says, you know, Here's the way we want to move forward, and you know, what ideas are acceptable, what are not acceptable.

But the president has made it clear that he thinks that the House and Senate bills are a good starting point, with the exception of, you know, taking out some of these provisions, like the special Nebraska deal, which he has said doesn't belong in the bills, either. So if we can take out those provisions that have understandably created the greatest concern and then work with our Republican colleagues to try and include some of the provisions that they want, then we're in a good place.

I should point out that a lot of Republican amendments were included in the Senate bill. A number were included in the House bill. And a lot of concepts that they proposed are already embedded in these bills.


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