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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Reaction to the President's Speech

Aired September 9, 2009 - 21:15   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


LARRY KING, HOST: Thank you so much, Wolf.

We're right on top of things.

In a couple of moments, we'll talk with Senator John McCain. He got a nice referral tonight from the president.

Let's have a question, though.

I have a question for John King, who's erstwhile looking at maps and things.

When are we going to get our first polls and what will the effect of the polls be on the people in that House tonight?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Larry, we'll get our first polls here at CNN within the hour. And as Paul mentioned, there are advocacy groups both on the Democratic side, the Republican side, all the interest groups with stakes in this are all polling and they'll all put them out there. So we'll know in an hour or so what the American people -- at least those watching the speech think. And that's your first target audience, those watching the speech tonight.

And then we will see, over the next few weeks, as the president travels the country, as the Republicans try to argue, to take issue with some of his proposals, are the key constituencies moving. Because in the month of August, the White House would say, if you asked the question, do you support the president's plan, that number has held pretty steady. But if you asked the American people, do you approve of the president's handling of the health care issue, that has dropped quite significantly.

And so his handling of the issue is what's at stake. If the American people watched this speech, think he's handling it right, then he can make the case to all those nervous Democrats.

This is a Democratic calculation right now. If he can get Republican votes, great. But this question right now is can he keep the Democrats in line, force the consensus. And if the American people trust him more, then he can get the Democrats and the White House, cut the deals, make them compromise and say you'll be OK in next year's election, that it is a bigger risk to do nothing than to do something.

L. KING: Candy Crowley, is there a time constraint here?

I mean when -- is this supposed to come up for a vote at a certain time?

Are we -- do we have a deadline?

CROWLEY: Interesting that he didn't give one. He gave one of August for some votes and didn't get it. So there was no deadline by the president. But there's a political deadline here. If he doesn't have something by the end of this year, 2010 looms. And it's very, very hard, at that point, to do anything, because you've got all these people that need to get re-elected. So that's the time line. It's a political calendar rather than an absolute date.

And the other problem is, as the president and the White House knows full well, the longer something like this is out there, the more it gets shot at. So they want to move this really quickly. And I think it's very clear from Senator Baucus saying, by the way, I'm going to have a bill in a week, that that message has gone up to Capitol Hill, saying, OK, guys, let's speed this up.

L. KING: Thanks, guys.

You'll all be checking in later when Anderson Cooper hosts this.

Wolf Blitzer and his crew right there in New York.

Up next, Senator John McCain, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

L. KING: Joining us now on Capitol Hill from the Russell Rotunda, our friend, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. He was the standard-bearer of his party last year and a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

First, your overall impression.

How was the speech?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, I thought the president is eloquent. I thought he had a lot of passion. I think it was more partisan than -- than I had expected, but -- and -- and there's a lot of questions that remain unanswered, I think. But he did give some more specific aspects of his -- of his overall proposal.

But a small example is that he says if you like your health insurance policy, you'll be able to keep it. The Congressional Budget Office says that if your employer goes to the health option and the employer -- the health policy that the government is providing and then you're going to lose the policy that you have with your employer. That's 10 million Americans, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Certainly, there are questions about how you're going to pay for this, as well, that will be explored in days to come.

L. KING: The president cited one of your proposals, Senator, tonight, as he made up -- as he made his case.

Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: For those Americans who can't get insurance today because they have pre-existing medical conditions, we will immediately offer low cost coverage that will protect you against financial ruin if you become seriously ill. This was a good idea when Senator John McCain proposed it in the campaign, it's a good idea now and we should all embrace it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

L. KING: That had to move you, did it not?

MCCAIN: Yes. And I do believe that it's an important aspect, obviously. We've got to provide healthy -- available and affordable health care to all Americans. And one of the biggest problems is those that have the "pre-existing conditions." And this is, I think, obviously, a viable way to address that issue. I'm glad the president mentioned it.

And there are a lot of things we can agree on, Larry. There's many things that we can agree on and work together. Republicans want reform. We know that the system is broken, particularly Medicare. But we are very concerned about the cost. We're very concerned about this "public option." Frankly, some tests on medical malpractice reform doesn't get it. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been wasted in defensive medicine and medical malpractice reform, the requirement for it.

L. KING: What -- what is wrong -- Senator, what is wrong with, we have the Postal Service and FedEx.

What's wrong with a public option on health?

What's wrong with giving the Americans -- OK, if you can't afford this, we'll give you that?

MCCAIN: Well, the -- the Postal Service is -- is going broke. It has about a $7 billion deficit no matter what FedEx does.

Another point here is, is will the government option have an unfair advantage?

If it doesn't, then it's just one of 1,500 or more health insurance policies available -- health insurance plans available to Americans. If it has an unfair advantage, then, obviously, Americans are going to gravitate in that direction and private health insurance will be more expensive. So there -- there has to be some advantage here for people to leave their health insurance policy and that would be a government health option, in my view. And people would gravitate out of it -- out of public...

L. KING: Is there any...

MCCAIN: ...out of the private health insurance. L. KING: Is there any is there any good reason, Senator, in a government and in a nation this rich, why anyone -- anyone should go without health needs?

MCCAIN: There is no reason why there should not be affordable and available health insurance and health care for all Americans.

The question is, are you going to have the, "public mandate?"

Are you going to have costs which escalate to over $1 trillion and no way to pay for it?

Despite what the president said tonight, there's still no -- in the estimate of the Congressional Budget Office, a way to pay for this $1 trillion added burden onto the already $9 trillion in deficits we're going to have over the next 10 years anyway. It's -- we cannot sustain this kind of deficit. It has to be paid for. The president pledged to. So far, his numbers don't add up.

L. KING: All right. Now play politics with me.

Is he going to get a bill?

MCCAIN: I hope he gets a bill. I hope we can sit down together and do the things that all of us agree on. And there are a number of things that are -- that we can agree on. And I think the American people, obviously, want that.

I don't know what the administration and the Democrats will insist on. Facts are stubborn things. The bills so far have had no bipartisanship associated with it. They were drawn up by Democrats and Republican amendments were rejected. So there's going to have to be an entire change of atmosphere here in order for us to get something done in a bipartisan basis.

L. KING: Concerning all the complaints on the right -- the president pointed out some tonight. In fact, Sarah Palin, your -- your vice presidential candidate, raised the death panel issue today in an article in "The Wall Street Journal." And the president dealt a little with that, seeming to take a dig at her.

Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Some of people's concerns have grown out of bogus claims, spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform at any cost. The best example is the claim, made not just by radio and cable talk show hosts, but by prominent politicians, that we plan to set up panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens. Now, such a charge would be laughable if it weren't so cynical and irresponsible. It is a lie, plain and simple.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

L. KING: What did you make of that, Senator? Did you agree with Sarah's -- the former governor's article today?

MCCAIN: Oh, I think that the president made an unnecessary comment there. It was partisan in nature. Look, the president keeps saying that if you like your health care policy, you can keep it no matter what. The Congressional Budget Office says you can't because if the government -- if your employer...

L. KING: I know, but did you...

MCCAIN: ...goes to another -- so, look, I'm not challenging the president -- I think it was an unnecessary comment and did nothing to contribute to bipartisan dialogue.

L. KING: But you don't believe there will be a death panel, though, do you?

MCCAIN: No. I do know that portions of the House bill were removed -- or one of the bills that's winding around here, which may have intimated such a thing. But -- and we know there's some questions about some of the manuals in the Veterans Administration.

But, look, instead of doing that, can't we sit down together and work together?

That might be a thought.

L. KING: One -- one other thing. Congressman Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, we have found out, was the gentleman, if it can call that, who yelled out, "You lie!" when the president made a referral to non-citizens getting coverage of health insurance -- illegal aliens.

What did you make of -- of that Congressman doing that and your thoughts on that subject?

MCCAIN: Totally disrespectful, no place for it in that setting or any other and he should apologize immediately.

L. KING: Senator, thank you so much, as always, for joining us. Every time we call on you, you're right there.

We appreciate it.

MCCAIN: Thank you for having me on, Larry.

L. KING: Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona.

We're going to continue the debate after this with the presidential adviser, Valerie Jarrett, from the White House, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: All right. Now play politics with me. Is he going to get a bill? MCCAIN: I hope he gets a bill. I hope we can sit down together and do the things that all of us agree on. And there are a number of things that we can agree on. And I think the American people, obviously, want that.

I don't know what the administration and the Democrats will insist on. Facts are stubborn things. The bills, so far, have had no bipartisanship associated with it. They were drawn up by Democrats, and Republican amendments were rejected. So there's going to have to be an entire change of atmosphere here in order for us to get something done in a bipartisan basis.

KING: Concerning all the complaints on the right, the president pointed out some tonight. In fact, Sarah Palin, your vice presidential candidate, raised the death panel issue today in an article in the "Wall Street Journal." And the president dealt with that, seeming to take a dig at her. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Some of people's concerns have grown out of bogus claims, spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform at any cost. The best example is the claim, made not just by radio and cable talk show hosts, but by prominent politicians, that we plan to set up panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens.

Now, such a charge would be laughable if it weren't so cynical and irresponsible. It is a lie, plain and simple.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: What did you make of that, senator? Did you agree with Sarah's -- the former governor's article today?

MCCAIN: Oh, I think that the president made an unnecessary comment there. It was partisan in nature. Look, the president keeps saying that if you like your health care policy, you can keep it no matter what. The Congressional Budget Office says you can't. Because if the --

KING: I know, but did you --

MCCAIN: Because if your employer goes to another -- look, I'm not challenging the president. I think it was an unnecessary comment and did nothing to contribute to bipartisan dialogue.

KING: But you don't believe there'll be a death panel, do you?

MCCAIN: No. I do know that portions of the House bill were removed -- or one of the bills that's winding around here -- which may have intimated such a thing. But -- and we know there's some questions about some of the manuals in the Veterans Administration.

But, look, instead of doing that, can't we sit down together and work together? That might be a thought. KING: One other thing. Congressman Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, we have found out, was the gentleman, if it can call that, who yelled out "you lie" when the president made a referral to non-citizens getting coverage of health insurance, illegal aliens. What did you make of that Congressman doing that and your thoughts on that subject?

MCCAIN: Totally disrespectful. No place for it in that setting or any other. And he should apologize immediately.

KING: Senator, thank you so much, as always, for joining us. Every time we call on you, you're right there. We appreciate it.

MCCAIN: Thank you for having me on, Larry.

KING: Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. We're going to continue the debate after this with the presidential adviser, Valerie Jarrett, from the White House, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Joining us now from the White House, Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama. What's the mood there after the speech?

VALERIE JARRETT, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Well, very positive, Larry. I think that President Obama had a great opportunity this evening to speak directly to the American people and members of Congress, and be very clear about where he is on health care reform, and the importance of moving forward expeditiously now.

KING: He laid out a strong claim for the plan tonight. Let's listen to a portion of it and get your comment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: But what we've also seen in these last months is the same partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have towards their own government. Instead of honest debate, we've seen scare tactics. Some have dug into unyielding ideological camps that offer no hope of compromise.

Too many have used this as an opportunity to score short-term political points, even if it robs the country of our opportunity to solve a long-term challenge.

And out of this blizzard of charges and counter-charges, confusion has reigned. Well, the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed.

Now is the season for action. Now is the when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together, and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do. Now is the time to deliver on health care.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Valerie, the -- Senator John McCain just told us, while he appreciated a lot of the speech and thought it was delivered well, he thought the speech was partisan.

JARRETT: No, not at all. My goodness, he incorporated one of Senator McCain's key provisions that he suggested in the course of the campaign.

KING: Yes, he appreciated that.

JARRETT: So it wasn't at all partisan. It was a call to remember who we are. And he talked about the character of our country and he talked about what's at stake here, the many, many millions of Americans who are having to worry about whether they have a pre- existing condition and lose their insurance, or whether they changed their job, or they move, or any one of the number of thing that happens to everybody in the course of their life. They shouldn't have to worry about their health care, not in this country.

So what he said is, look, let's keep focused on the real issues. Let's have an honest debate. There may be substantiative differences of opinion, but what we all agree -- and I think if you survey the American people, everyone agrees that the status quo is no longer acceptable.

We even heard that in the comments from the Republicans afterwards. So if you agree to that, then shouldn't we also agree, Larry, that we're going to be honest with one another and we're going to have an honest debate and that we're going to keep our focus in what's in the best interest of the American people? That was his message tonight.

KING: What's he going to get, do you think, Valerie? And when is it going to happen? Is there a time constraint here? Does it have to be by the end of the year?

JARRETT: Look, we've already made a great deal of progress. I think the president said tonight 80 percent agreement. We've had four committees already act on their legislation. We have Baucus who said today that he expects to have a markup within the next week or so.

So we are well on our way. And I think that there is a lot of room for agreement. And there's certainly room for incorporating new ideas. He made it very clear tonight that he put down what his plan -- he put down what he thought was important for the American people, in terms of providing stability and security and affordable health care and cutting the costs and keeping everything we do deficit neutral.

He put his principles down and his plan down, but he also said, Larry, I'm open to new ideas. I'm open to suggestions. I will reach out my hand, as I always have. And I think that's what the American people expect from their president. It's what they expect from their leaders. And what he said tonight is that's what he expects from Congress. KING: One other thing, Valerie, David Gergen said a little earlier that this is a speech that maybe he should have made three months ago. Do you agree?

JARRETT: No. I think the timing was perfect. I think it was important for all of the committees to do their hard work. And many people in the chamber, as he said tonight, have been working tirelessly to move us in the right direction of health care reform. A lot of that important work had to get done. And through that process, he heard a lot of great ideas, which he incorporated this evening. And I think it was important for him to let that process work and then to reach the point now, as we are entering the home stretch, to really energize everybody, to bring this to closure.

We've waited far too long in this country. He gave us a great history lesson. He put it in context. And he showed us the direction for the future.

KING: Valerie, thanks so much. We'll be calling on you frequently.

JARRETT: I hope you do, Larry. Have a nice evening. Thank you.

KING: You too. We will. Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama. We'll be right back with Congressman Barney Frank and Ben Stein. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: As we continue our discussion of the president's address -- and I imagine we'll do a lot more on it tomorrow night as well -- at the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill is Congressman Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. Here in Los Angeles, Ben Stein, columnist with "Fortune Magazine," economist, and a former presidential speech writer. And in New York, John King, the anchor of "STATE OF THE UNION" with John King and CNN's chief national correspondent.

You first, Ben, your overall impression of the speech.

BEN STEIN, ECONOMIST: He's a fine speaker, there's no doubt about that. But I found it a very misleading speech. We're not going to regulate medicine, but somehow we're going to cut hundreds of billions of dollars out. How are they going to do that without regulating medicine? We're not going to regulate Medicare, but somehow we're going to cut hundreds of billions of dollars out of Medicare. How are they going to do that?

We're not going to come between the patient and the doctor, but somehow we're going to regulate medical care. How are they going to do that?

I wish him well. I like him. I find him a compelling person. It's a compelling subject. I agree, in a country as rich as this, no one should go hungry in terms of medical care. But it doesn't seem to me to add up. We've been talking about waste, fraud, and abuse paying for things in Washington as long as I've been alive. And I'm 64 and it never works.

KING: But you want everyone to have health care?

STEIN: I absolutely do.

KING: Congressman Frank, how do you assess the way he did tonight?

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I thought it was an excellent speech. I will say this: I was not, myself, one who thought we had to pay for this entirely within the system. I was glad that he referred to the enormous cost of the Iraq war. If we hadn't fought the war in Iraq, which I thought was a terrible mistake, we wouldn't be worrying about how to pay for health care.

I had one disagreement with him when he said that the deficit issue in America is entirely about health care. It's also about a greatly excessive, overdone military. But even beyond that, I do think, yes, there is room for reductions.

As Herb said -- Ben, rather. Sorry, Ben, for the generational flicks. I'm old. As Ben acknowledged, people have talked about waste and fraud. How are they going to do that? There's the Medicare Advantage Plan, which pays more than other Medicare plans. We can cut that back. There is duplication. Electronic records can help.

I am not convinced that we will find all of the savings that we want. I am convinced that we should not reduce the services under Medicare. And I know the president did say, if we cannot achieve this with anti-waste methods in Medicare, we'll find other spending cuts. That may be necessary, and I have plenty of places in this federal budget where we can find them, so that we can provide that medical care.

KING: John King, what do you think's going to happen between these two viewpoints?

J. KING: Well, I think the most interesting calculation is that -- look, the president said he wanted to reach out to Republicans today. He said his door was open. But he also said the clock is ticking. And he is proceeding as if he's going to have to do this with only Democrats or maybe one or two Republicans. If more Republicans come on board, the president will be grateful. But he doesn't expect that, Larry. I can tell you from spending some time at the White House earlier this afternoon.

The biggest question is -- and Congressman Frank can answer it better than anybody on the program at the moment -- is, what happens? The president made a strong case for the public option tonight, but what happens two, three, six weeks down the line when the votes are not there in the Senate, and the president has to go back to the House and say, I want it, you want it, but we're not going to get it. What kind of compromise can they shape? And how angry and upset will the liberals be? Will they say, we're going to fight you? One told me this weekend, I will walk away. Or will they say, you know what, 70 percent, 80 percent of what we want is a whole lot better than nothing.

KING: Fair question for Congressman Frank.

FRANK: Let me say two things. First of all, I greatly respect John, and you, Larry. We're in a negotiation now. And I can't negotiate on television with people who don't have a vote. Nothing personal.

But beyond that, I think the president framed it well. The public options is a means to the end of holding down costs, of improving things. I believe the public option is a necessary means to that end. But there are people who say other ways you can achieve it. If they can show me ways that without a public option they can achieve everything else that they talked about, then I would consider voting for it.

I am skeptical that they can do that. As I said, we're in a negotiation. And given that, I'll see what happens.

KING: We got on late tonight, so we're pressed for time. One more quick thing for Ben. What do you think is going to happen?

STEIN: I think he'll get pretty much everything he wants, except the public option, which is an insurance company killer. If you have a government-run insurance company out there, it doesn't need to make profits. It will do everything else an insurance company does, but doesn't need to make a profit. It will kill the insurance companies.

KING: We'll have everybody back. We'll try to devote a full hour to this tomorrow. Thanks, Congressman Frank. We're so tight on time. Thanks, Ben, we'll have you back. And always, John King. Ben Frank -- Barney Frank, Ben Stein, John King, host of "STATE OF THE UNION." Back with more right after the beak.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're so limited in time. We'll have our guests back shortly. Congressman Paul, did the president change your mind in any way tonight?

REP. RON PAUL (R), TEXAS: No, not quite. He firmed up my beliefs that there's no way this will be paid for. You know, at the end of his speech, he said we're not going to have one dollar of debt coming from this. There's never been a medical program by government that wasn't two or three times more expensive than they claimed it would be. So he said it was a little under a trillion. I predict when this is over -- it will cost two or three trillion dollars. And believe me -- He said he wasn't going to take any money out of Medicare. He couldn't. It's practically broke itself. All these government programs are essentially bankrupt. So I don't see any practical outcome from all this proposal. This is just going to move the bankruptcy of this country rapidly along.

KING: Dr. Scheiner, you're a strong proponent of a national health program involving the government. Do you think you're going to get it?

DR. DAVID SCHEINER, PRESIDENT OBAMA'S FORMER PERSONAL PHYSICIAN: I think it's still possible, but I think physicians are going to have to organize to get it. four hundred billion dollars a year is spent on private health insurance administration. Under his program, this will probably increase. It's one third of every dollar spent in health care.

The other thing, he dismissed single payer very quickly, saying, if we shift it to single payer, this would disrupt health care. A patient who is 64, is on private insurance, turns 65, there's no disruption in health care.

Private health care interferes with the practice of medicine constantly. I had an example in my office today, which was a disaster. Medicare never interferes. The health lobby has spent a quarter of a billion dollars in lobbying over the past six months. And I think they're getting their money's worth, if you watched the Republicans tonight. I'm ashamed.

KING: Dr. Nielsen, where do you stand in all this?

DR. NANCY H. NIELSEN, FMR. PRESIDENT, AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: Well, we think he set the stage for significant health care reform, and we think it's time to seize the opportunity. People are suffering in this country. If we didn't need insurance -- it would be fine if people didn't need insurance and we went back to the old way, where patients just paid their doctor. But that doesn't work when your daughter gets Leukemia.

We really have to share the risk. And so he set the stage. We are hoping that people of good will on both sides of the aisle will really get down to work and recognize that we need to get something done. Come together, compromise, and get some meaningful reform.

KING: Are you saying that the AMA generally approves basically of his ideas?

NIELSEN: Well, if you think about it, Larry, what he did is set out three major goals. One of them was to stabilize those who have insurance right now. That's a laudable goal.

He said the second goal was to provide affordable health insurance for those who don't have it. There aren't many people who would disagree with that.

The third was to stem the rising health care cost. And again, as a country we have to do that.

If you remember, the one area where he got this laughter in the halls of Congress was where he said, there's much left to be determined in the details. And indeed, that was -- that got a reaction.

KING: We are -- thank you all very much. We are out of time. We're going to do a lot more on this tomorrow. We hope to have all of you back. Time now for "AC 360." Anderson live from Afghanistan.

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