Democrats On the Fence Feeling Pressure on Health Care

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," March 9, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: At this moment, our next guest is one of the most powerful people in Washington. Everyone wants his vote. First time around last November, Democratic congressman Jason Altmire voted no on the health care bill in the House. That was then. So what about now? President Obama desperately needs his vote to change to a yes. So is Congressman Altmire going to change his vote to yes? Well, let's ask. He joins us live.

Good evening, Congressman. And tell me, you voted no last November, what about now?

REP. JASON ALTMIRE, D - PENN.: The bill that appears to be before us now, the Senate bill plus the reconciliation revisions, I think is going to be a much superior approach than we saw in the House. I need to see the finished product. I definitely need to see the CBO score to see what this does for deficit reduction and I need to see what the reconciliation package is. That's where the devil's in the details. I think we're in a better starting point, but I need to see the finished product.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you say the reconciliation provisions, which leads me to believe that you have information about what this change is going to be in the reconciliation. What is it that departs from the previous Senate bill? What's the difference?

ALTMIRE: What I need see is stronger cost containment, bringing down the cost of health care for people who have it now, businesses and families, and especially the government. This has to be about lowering the cost of health care, not just moving money around, which is what we did in the House bill. So that's what I'm looking to see, and I'm hoping that the reconciliation package is going to address that issue.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, have you spoken in the last five days to Speaker Pelosi or Steny Hoyer, Congressman Hoyer, or President Obama or Rahm Emanuel about this bill?

ALTMIRE: I have not spoken to Speaker Pelosi this time around. I have spoken with the president on a couple of occasions in the past week or so, and I've spoken with Rahm, as well.

VAN SUSTEREN: Has anyone made any promise to you, saying, Look, if you go this way with this vote and you, you know, believe (ph) in us, bleed (ph) with us on this one, we'll do this for you? Anything offered at all?

ALTMIRE: I'm not interested in any offers, except for talking about health care policy. I've let it be known what my concerns are, what I'd like to see and what I need to see to vote for the bill. It's all about the policy of health care. I haven't had any discussions other than that.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, just so I'm clear, you said that you're not interested in anything. Was anything actually offered...


VAN SUSTEREN: ... or hinted to you?

ALTMIRE: Absolutely not.

VAN SUSTEREN: So no one has made any sort of -- you know, no one's put any pressure on you that way?

ALTMIRE: No one in Washington. My constituents on both sides are conversing with me about the issue. I'm hearing from people on both sides. And I've been spending the last couple of weeks, since it appeared we were going this direction, talking to my constituents. That's what's going to tell the tale, is I'm a representative here. I'm going to do what my constituents are most comfortable with. And I'm hearing from both sides and I'm going to continue to spend this week talking to them, as well as people here.

VAN SUSTEREN: You raise the constituents, which is sort of interesting because the latest Gallup poll shows that the -- that the people who are not -- who don't want the bill to go forward are -- as a greater number than those who support the bill. And I look back at your particular district, while you won by a sizable margin as a Democrat both in 2000 and -- 2004 and 2008, the Republican candidate for president was 10 percent ahead of the Democrat. So your -- your -- your constituents tend to be Republicans, or vote Republican. How does this factor into your decision?

ALTMIRE: What factors into my decision is talking with my constituents about the health care issue specifically and what they would like me to do on this bill. I really have a constituency that is a toss- up. It's equally divided on almost every issue, not just this one, so I've been spending time talking to them. And in the end, I'm going to be accountable to my vote. I'm going to have to go home and explain why I voted yes or no, as I did the first time, when I voted no in November.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, so you're tough on fiscal policy, according to your vote in November. Can you identify for me specifically what it is about the Senate bill and the reconciliation? Where's the big cost savings that's sort of interesting you tonight?

ALTMIRE: The Senate bill does a lot better on value-based purchasing, on bundling, which is groups of providers working together for your care, quality of care, not quantity of care. The House bill really didn't address any of these differences with regard to our current payment system. It just moved money around and decided that somebody else is going to pay for care that's being paid for today. I want to see cost containment measures, and I think that the Senate bill, with its provisions -- Senator Coburn, you had Congressman Ryan talking about his work with Senator Coburn -- that's in the bill, the fraud and abuse language.

VAN SUSTEREN: What about the fact that in the president's suggestion that these tax on the so-called Cadillac insurance plans don't start until the year 2018, when everybody is long gone, at least in the administration? You know, do you have any problem with that, that we're not going to pay for this until out in 2018?

ALTMIRE: Well, they did a lot better job in this proposal to even out the time when the bill starts to give benefits and when the payment starts. That one provision that you're talking about, you're correct, is 2018. I'm not thrilled with that policy to begin with so, it doesn't bother me that that's starting late. Some of the other cuts in Medicare, for example, the growth in the long term and the revenue increases, those are things that start immediately, along with the benefits of the program.

VAN SUSTEREN: Congressman, thank you, sir. And good luck, sir.

ALTMIRE: Thank you, Greta. Glad to be here.

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