We've Got to Slow Him Down

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," July 21, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Senator Jim DeMint is in a battle with President Obama. Speaking about health care, Senator DeMint said, "If we are to stop Obama on this, it would be his Waterloo. It will break him."

Well, without mentioning Senator DeMint by name, President Obama hit back at the senator.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just the other day, one Republican senator said -- and I'm quoting him now -- "If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him." Think about that. This isn't about me. This isn't about politics. This is about a health care system that is breaking America's families, breaking America's businesses and breaking America's economy.


VAN SUSTEREN: Well, "one Republican senator" joins us. Senator DeMint joins us live. He's also the author of the book "Saving Freedom: We Can Stop America's Slide Into Socialism."

You're now "one Republican senator." Sort of interesting title.

SEN. JIM DEMINT, R-S.C.: Yes, it is!

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, you said this comment about Waterloo. Why did you say that?

DEMINT: Well, if we don't put the brakes on the president, he's going to break our country right now. And the last time we let him ram something through Congress, we ended up with this catastrophic stimulus failure that's hurting our jobs and mortgaging our future. And now he's trying to push this trillion-dollar health care bill through in two weeks, before we go home on the August break. And we've got to slow him down.

And Greta, that's what I hear from Americans more than anything else, Slow down, read the bills, find out what's in them. The president wants to go too fast. We need to put the brakes on.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, I'll tell you what horrifies me, is this bill, at least, it's rumored to be, about a thousand pages. Is that right, the (INAUDIBLE)

DEMINT: Oh, it's well over that.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK, well over a thousand. Do you know any member of the House of Representatives of any U.S. senator who's either read it or plans to read it before it's voted on?

DEMINT: They won't. And there are actually three versions of it now. There are two in the Senate. There's one in the House. And the president probably has some variations of his own. And he's admitted he doesn't know what's in these bills, yet he's out giving all these glowing promises about it. And the people who are reading what has been put out say it's not going to do what he promised. It's not going to cover people with health care. And we are going to lose our private plans.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, who's doing this reading? Is it lobbyists and staff members? Are those the one ones who are doing the reading? Because I have yet to find a House member or a Senate who says, Yes, I've read these three versions start to finish. Who's -- who's doing this reading?

DEMINT: Well, you can look at the language and see the plaintiffs' attorneys have written a lot of it because there's no tort reform in it and there's actually more liability.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, we could -- we could debate that one. I'm not...


VAN SUSTEREN: ... down the road on that one. We just read today about a poor guy who went in for a gall bladder and lost both of his legs, or something.


VAN SUSTEREN: So I mean, I -- you and I can fight about that one. But go on.

DEMINT: No, but they haven't read it. It's a compilation of what staff puts together, and different congressmen say, I have to have a public plan, I have to have this in there. And it comes together and they want to pass it before anyone reads it. That's why the president wants it done before our August break. If it hangs out there during the month-long August break, people will put it on the Internet. The radio talk shows will pick it up. The bloggers will pick it up...

VAN SUSTEREN: So we'll see what it is, essentially.

DEMINT: ... and we'll find out what's in it. And all the independent groups that have looked at it so far say it's not going to get the people insured that the president says, and we will lose our private policies. So his promises are not true.

I'm just trying to use whatever language I need to get his attention and the American people's attention. The fact is, Greta, he's not for reform. He voted against everything that we put up for health care reform when he was in the Senate. What he wants is the government to take it over, just like General Motors or AIG.

VAN SUSTEREN: But I don't even know -- I mean, frankly, I mean, that's not necessarily -- that's not an appealing way to do it necessarily for me. But what I don't understand is that, how can I even know if the option is appealing when we don't even get to see it and the people who vote on it don't even get to read it and people are just jamming all sorts of things into it? You know, it's, like -- it's -- to the American people, it's, like -- as they sort of sit back and listen to this, I imagine they're thinking, Why do we send anybody to Washington if it's just going to be, you know, throwing it up in the air and see what sticks?

DEMINT: If it was really what they said it was, they would want us to read it, but they don't want us to read it, Greta, and I'm afraid we've been doing it that way all year.

VAN SUSTEREN: That's got to stop! That's got to stop! You guys got to start reading what you vote on!

DEMINT: We do. But you know, if you have over a thousand pages of legal language that refers to numerous other bills that you can't read that even in a week. You have to...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, but this one's so profoundly important that at least take the time for this one.

DEMINT: It's a...

VAN SUSTEREN: But I mean, this one is -- this is going to redefine how we do health care for generations, probably.

DEMINT: It will, and it's a fifth of our economy, and they're talking about taking it over with the government. So I think -- and that's what I'm saying, that we have to stop the president or he's going to knock this one out and go on to cap-and-trade, which will put a tax on electricity.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do any U.S. senators, Democrats, across the aisle -- do they ever come up to you in the hall -- and I won't make you out their names -- and say, you know, Boy, this is really bad? We got -- you know, we need to put the brakes on so that we can actually read this to see what this bill is.

DEMINT: Well, they haven't said that to me, but enough of them have said to their constituents back home that they'd have concerns that I can tell that they are at least thinking about this. We've got to make them more afraid of their voters than they are of the special interests that are basically drawing up these bills.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you know, I -- I wish that they would make a pact with their voters -- you know, a lot of them made pacts, like, on term limits and stuff. I'd like to a pact with the voters on something that's so profoundly important -- make that pact that, you know -- you know, that the senators and congressmen will actually read it before they vote on it.

DEMINT: There are people passing out a petition, and I've signed it, that before I vote on a bill, I'm going to read it. And I'm going to vote against a lot of them when I don't get a chance to read the whole thing.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I mean, there is no -- there is no transparency if (INAUDIBLE) if it doesn't go up on the Web and it just gets rammed through, whether it's a good bill or a rotten bill.

DEMINT: Let me say one thing just to clear the record on it. Republicans have put forward much more health care reform than the Democrats...

VAN SUSTEREN: Historically or now?

DEMINT: In the last several years...


DEMINT: ... since I've been in the Senate. Obama voted against everything that would have helped make it more affordable and accessible for people to have their own insurance when they don't get it at work. He's saying we don't want to do anything. The facts are against him. We've tried to reform the system. Now he wants the government to take it over. We need to stop it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you.

DEMINT: Thank you.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, time for all of us to confess. Admit it! You are just as confused as we all are about the proposed health care plan. Joining us live to sort it all out is Adriel Bettelheim, White House correspondent for CQPolitics. Can you sort out this health care bill for us? What is it?

ADRIEL BETTELHEIM, CQPOLITICS: Well, we're trying. There are several drafts circulating, as the senator said, in the House and the Senate, and they both try to do two things. They try to cover the uninsured population, about 47-48 million Americans who lack coverage, and they're trying to do it budget-neutral, meaning this plan will pay for itself.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is there -- now, OK, now, I saw the report from the Congressional Budget Office. Is there any chance that the current three versions that are floating out there -- that they will pay for themselves?

BETTELHEIM: Well, I mean, the projections are saying that they'll swell long-term costs instead of pay for themselves. These are still drafts, and I think you sort of have to view them as works in progress, particularly since the Senate Finance Committee, which a lot of people look as the fulcrum in this debate, have yet to mark up their bill.

So I don't want to say these are stalking horses yet, but I think there's a lot of work yet to be done.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, if they're going to pay for themselves, why do we hear about tax increases, surtaxes on different income strata? That doesn't sound like it's really going to pay for themselves. It sounds like that they're really going to go out and extra money from other people to pay for itself. So it really isn't -- it isn't cost-neutral. That's -- that's a lie.

BETTELHEIM: There's two ways to pay for a health care overhaul. You tax people or you try to squeeze efficiencies out of the health delivery system. And to do the latter, you press providers -- doctors, hospitals, whomever -- to squeeze new efficiencies, come up with hundreds of billions of savings.

VAN SUSTEREN: That would be cost-neutral, I think.

BETTELHEIM: Well, but that...


BETTELHEIM: That gets you part of the way, but then you still have to raise taxes, and that gets into a very sticky political debate over who.

VAN SUSTEREN: So that's a lie, though, to say that's cost-neutral. When you have to start to go out and get more money, it's not cost-neutral. It does cost somebody. Right?

BETTELHEIM: Well, they're saying the total package, when you net everything out, will be neutral over 10 years.

VAN SUSTEREN: But I mean, does that mean that they're -- these people won't get tax increases?

BETTELHEIM: Well, it depends who will.


VAN SUSTEREN: It sounds -- it sounds a little bit -- you know, I'm a little confused, I must admit.

BETTELHEIM: They're trying to aim at the wealthiest Americans. And he said this much when he was campaigning, that they were going to try to levy surtaxes and eliminate deductions for the wealthiest Americans. But that's not going to make all of the math work. Some people are suggesting they go after the tax exclusion on employer-provided health coverage. A lot of Republicans say that's a good idea. That would force him to kind of go back on a campaign pledge, and he doesn't want to think about that right now. But there may be a fallback yet that...

VAN SUSTEREN: Is it -- is it -- have the Republicans proposed any plan, or are they just criticizing this one?

BETTELHEIM: No, I think they have some plans out there. They have ways that businesses could get around regulations and have more liberalized purchase of insurance. It is not the big, all-encompassing plan as touted by Obama.

VAN SUSTEREN: So they're not just saying no. They're not just saying no to the president. They're saying that these are -- these are some options of what we would like to see.

BETTELHEIM: I think -- no, there are -- there are proposals out there. I think some Republicans genuinely want to work with this administration. Others are putting honest alternatives, and still others are kind of dug in and just have a philosophical, ideological problem with the government playing this big a role, as Obama would like it to.

VAN SUSTEREN: Have you come across any member of the House or Senate who is at least bit sort of, you know -- feels a little bad about the prospect of voting on something, having not read it, something so profound that could restructure our economic -- or society so profoundly?

BETTELHEIM: They're not going to vote on it anytime soon, except if they're in the relevant committees. Obama was talking about having a vote before the August recess. That's looking almost impossible.

VAN SUSTEREN: But -- but how about the concept of actually reading it? Because, I mean, that's the thing that -- I mean, you know, I know that they vote on a lot of things they don't read, but this one -- this is different. It's like the bail-out bill that they didn't read. Are any of them -- do you know anyone who's actually going to read this?

BETTELHEIM: One would hope, you know, over the August recess, as they see this coming together, they or a staffer or someone will at least summarize it, and I would guess they'll know what they're getting into. But I can't tell you that everyone's going to read every word. Those are big bills. They're...

VAN SUSTEREN: Big bills, but yet that's their job, isn't it? I mean, like -- isn't that -- I mean, like, why -- see, I don't get this, is that if they're not going to read them, why do we even need them? That's the whole point. It's, like, just -- I guess to vote general concepts, I guess. I don't know. But anyway -- anyway, the American people are getting -- or at least I'm getting a lot of e-mails. People are mad at that. But anyway, thank you very much.

BETTELHEIM: My pleasure.

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