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Obamacare: Reform or Repeal?

Aired September 23, 2013 - 18:28   ET


ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, now it's the Senate's turn.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: The United States Senate will act as quickly as Tea Party and company will allow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe nothing is hurting the American people more than Obamacare.

ANNOUNCER: As the battle over Obamacare brings the government closer to shutting down, should the president's health reform plan be shut down instead, or expanded?

On the left, Van Jones. On the right, S.E. Cupp.

In the CROSSFIRE, Cornel West, who thinks the president's health-care plan is only a step in the right direction. And William Kristol, who'd repeal all of it. Obamacare, does it go far enough? Has it already gone too far? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.

VAN JONES, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Van Jones on the left.

S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: And I'm S.E. Cupp on the right.

We are one week away from a possible government shutdown. We're also a week away from the day millions of Americans start enrolling in the Obamacare health insurance exchanges. Remember what President Obama promised us right after he took office.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will keep this promise to the American people: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health-care plan, you will be able to keep your health-care plan. Period.


CUPP: Not if you are one of the impacted employees at Walgreens or UPS, I guess.

Look, for many conservatives, Van, ending Obamacare isn't about scoring a political victory. It is a moral hazard that we think will bankrupt our children, worsen the economy, and worsen unemployment.

And we also know that the second this thing is fully implemented, it will be impossible to peel back. JONES: Well, I think that's a good thing if, in one week here's what's going to actually happen. The sky is not going to fall in one week. Millions of Americans who don't have insurance right now, who are living in fear of sickness or an accident, will be able to go to and sign up for private health insurance. That's a good thing.

And all this fear-mongering is going to turn out to be much ado about nothing.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, we've got some big heavyweights to help us think this through. We have Professor Cornel West here on the stage. He's against repealing Obamacare, a good man. And alongside, Bill Kristol, who is for repealing Obamacare.

CUPP: Also a good man.

JONES: Also a good man. And we're really happy.


CUPP: You're welcome. I'm fair here.

JONES: I'm fair here.

I want to start with you, sir. Why are you not happy with Obamacare? Why won't you take yes for an answer? This is a conservative program. The Heritage Foundation said we should go with the individual mandate. Romney put it into effect. We didn't go with single payer. We didn't go with public option. Why won't you take yes for an answer and celebrate Obamacare with the rest of us?

KRISTOL: Because it's hurting employment. That's pretty clear around the country. Full-time jobs are not growing at the rate they should be growing coming out of the recession. It's going to hurt our health-care system. If it's so great, how come the president is postponing it and delaying it and actually getting rid of parts of it? And why won't he let us delay the individual mandate, as he has delayed the employer mandate, catering to big business?

You were on the Obama administration. You objected to some of that cronyism, Van. You know, you should have -- you'd be unhappy about --

JONES: Let's talk --

KRISTOL: -- the big businesses -- the big businesses show up at the White House: "Oh, yes, OK, we'll delay that mandate." Little people? No, not so interested. Right?

CUPP: Right.

JONES: Let's talk about those numbers. Ninety-one percent of all the job growth since Obamacare has come into place has been full-time employment, not part-time employment.

Let's talk about the -- the exception that we're making on the business side. Don't you think it's responsible for us to implement -- implement this thing in a responsible way to respond to some of these concerns? I don't understand why you --

KRISTOL: The exchanges that are going into place in a week have not been tested for security or privacy.

JONES: That's not true.

KRISTOL: It is true. The government is testing the day before. They're way behind schedule. And the common-sense legislation that passed the House said let's delay them until outside people, non- ideological people, can certify that stheir privacy and security concerns are met. The Senate won't take up that bill. The individual mandate delay, the Senate won't take up that bill.

Let's delay the parts of it, at least, that are very problematic.

CUPP: Well, yes, and Dr. West, let me ask you, because I know you're unhappy with parts of Obamacare.


CUPP: And most Americans want to turn back parts of this legislation, as well. Why should we continue with this when it's been delayed, and as Bill said, classes of people have been exempt from it? It's been changed. Why wouldn't we start over, bring people like you and Van and Bill to the table and have a conversation about legislation that can actually work?

WEST: Justice denied is justice delayed, and justice delayed is justice denied. We should have fought for single payer, at least a public option. We need to take profits out of health care. It's a sick market. Too much precious poor and working people are not only excluded, but don't have access to quality.

Why not have every American citizen have the same health care that each member of Congress has?

CUPP: Well, Congress does not have --

WEST: -- my disagreement with brother Bill is you privatize --

CUPP: Congress does not have single payer health care.

WEST: -- privatize -- well --

CUPP: Congress does not have single payer health care.

WEST: Medicare is public in terms of the quality --

CUPP: Congress has at its fingertips about 300 different options.

WEST: Wait a minute.

CUPP: There's competition in Congress. What's going to end is competition in single payer. WEST: But 28 million excluded, and still 17 million with the president's bill. The president's bill needs to be definitive to agree, the right wing is trying to undercut rule of law, blackmail the president and the Democrats, and subvert at least an extension of a privatized system --

CUPP: But do you -- do you think that Obamacare's going to fail?

WEST: -- to defend privatized medicine in the 21st century.

KRISTOL: What do you mean? Who is exactly creating the miracle drugs? You think the profit motive doesn't help for that? You think getting good people to go into medicine has nothing to do -- nothing to do with the fact that they can make a good living doing that?

WEST: But do you think that doctors are obsessed just with money as opposed to the quality of care?

KRISTOL: I don't. Absolutely not. I'm not the one who attacks doctors --

WEST: They can engage in technological innovation without being tied to profit and not allowing care to somehow be minimized as profit goes up.

KRISTOL: I prefer to have ambitious and intelligent people go into medicine to think it's a profitable professional as well as a worthwhile, humanitarian profession.

JONES: Let me ask you a question. Your magazine, "Weekly Standard" -- I'll give you a plug. "Weekly Standard."

KRISTOL: That's great.

JONES: "Weekly Standard" just came out with a great magazine talking about Israel and sticking up for Israel, talking about how plucky Israel is. Israel has universal health care. Are you concerned that Israel is on the road to being some sort of a country with no work ethic or whatever? If it's good enough in Israel, our allies in Israel, they have universal health care. Why can't we have it?

KRISTOL: Well, it's great to have you be so pro-Israel here. And I find it -- look, they make up their own decision. They have too much -- you know, originally Israel was a more or less socialist country. The welfare state actually slowed down Israel. B.B. Netanyahu as finance minister privatized all kinds of things, introduced more competition. And that's been better for Israel.

JONES: But their health care system is a -- is universal health care. In other words, Israel has the health care system that Mr. West here is defending. Don't you think --


KRISTOL: The one thing it doesn't have --

WEST: I would like to hear my dear brother defend this. I would like to see you defend it.

KRISTOL: I would agree with Cornel West for a minute here.

WEST: Absolutely.

KRISTOL: Heads are exploding.

In a certain way single payer and public option has an internal intellectual coherency. And you can defend that. You give up a lot when you have it, but you also get some good things out of it.

The Canadian system was pretty good for quite a while. Now I think it's -- I think eventually these things do run aground, because they don't have market forces and market signals.

But Obamacare certainly is the worst of both worlds. How did Obamacare get passed? Cutting deals with the insurance companies, cutting deals with --

WEST: That's true. That's true.

KRISTOL: Cutting deals with the hospital chains. Cutting -- cutting deals -- he wanted deals with big pharma. Obamacare, if you're on the left, you should be fighting for public option.

WEST: Yes.

KRISTOL: This is the worst of crony capitalism.

WEST: No, we fought and lost. We fought for single payer. We -- but it would be in some ways Israeli occupation of Palestinians. Do they have universal health care there? It's a matter of trying to be inclusive across the board.

The problem with health care is you've got issues of race and class. Those in the hoods, those on the reservations, those in the barrios, they are not even part of the conversation.

CUPP: Well, let me ask you about that, Dr. West.

WEST: In the same way it's hard for Palestinians to be hard of the conversation --

KRISTOL: Medicaid is --

WEST: -- with our Jewish brothers in the state of Israel.

KRISTOL: Medicaid is what you want. Medicaid is single payer public option. If you -- do you think health care is really great for the poor in America? I don't think so.


KRISTOL: Do you want to spread Medicaid to everyone?

WEST: No, no. We're talking about Medicare, not Medicaid. KRISTOL: Medicaid -- Medicaid -- Medicare is not single payer public option.

JONES: I want to know what you want, though, sir. Honestly. We have a system right now --

KRISTOL: I'm for conservative reform. It has to be reformed.

JONES: Let me lay this out for you, and you tell me where I'm wrong.


JONES: Right now, if somebody -- we have the worst of all possible worlds right now. If somebody gets hit by a bus right now, we're not going to let them die.

WEST: Right.

JONES: We give them health care right now. Here's -- you've got to be in one of three camps. You're either in the "let them die" camp --


JONES: -- or in the "pro-moocher" camp, just let them, you know. Or you've got to be in the "individual mandate" camp and say, listen, you've got to get your own health insurance. Are you pro-moocher or are you --

KRISTOL: Yes, pro-moocher.

JONES: You're pro-moocher!

KRISTOL: Pro-moocher across the board. Mooching off your friends --

WEST: What do you mean by pro-moocher?

KRISTOL: The fact is it distorts the health-care system less to give free -- what is, in effect, free emergency care to people who got in accidents who irresponsibly didn't take out insurance than to distort the entire health-insurance system to 85, 95 percent of people to try to maniacally try to get to insure and give incentives and now tax incentives to insure to get all these young people --

WEST: The problem -- but the problem with that --


CUPP: You know, this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) 20 million at the expense of 200 million.


WEST: If you wait for the last moment of catastrophe, as opposed to prevention, then the costs are going to go up, no matter what. As long as big pharmacy and big --

CUPP: -- separate issue.

WEST: Private insurance companies are in the driver's seat, be it Obamacare, or pre-Obamacare, we're still going to have high costs.

KRISTOL: Wait. Since we all agree we should get back to sort of -- to Ground Zero and rethink this whole thing, let's delay --


WEST: Justice delayed is justice denied.

KRISTOL: No. Bad policy -- bad policy.

WEST: It took 50 years -- 50 years!

KRISTOL: Bad policy delayed is good for the country.

CUPP: Professor West, let me get you -- let me take a turn for a second. You -- you talk a lot about dignity.

WEST: Yes.

CUPP: Isn't dignity found in self-reliance?

WEST: Absolutely.

CUPP: I understand you're for government responsibility, but what about personal responsibility? Where's the dignity there?

WEST: Personality responsibility is very important. But keep in mind that when you're talking about dignity, you have to talk about context and conditions under which dignity can actually be realized. You talk about self-determination to people or persons, you have to ensure they have a voice over the process.

Part of the problem in this debate over Obamacare is most poor and working people, they have not had their voices heard, because public option was off, single payer was off the table. We brought in the elite. You brought in big insurance, pharmaceutical companies. And so --

CUPP: No argument there. Let's talk more about it, but we are shoving this down --

KRISTOL: Who is -- and who is in the White House and who was running Congress when all this happened?

WEST: No, it was milquetoast Democrats, but milquetoast Democrats are better than cold-hearted, mean-spirited Republicans.

KRISTOL: Cold-hearted -- cold-hearted Republicans are better than milquetoast Democrats.

WEST: No, no. No, no, no.

JONES: OK, look, we've got to go to commercial. When we come back, I have a question for you, Mr. Kristol. You know, Republicans have been beating up on Obamacare. It's the only bill that's out there right now that might get insurance to people who don't have it.

When I come back, I'm going to ask Mr. Kristol a question. Whatever happened to compassionate conservatives?


JONES: Welcome back. Here in Washington today, Senator Ted Cruz tried to get the Senate to defund Obamacare. It didn't work, but here's what I want to know. Whatever happened to compassionate conservatism?

George W. Bush used to talk about that. I remember when Jack Kemp used to go into black communities, talk about empowering people. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Professor Cornel West and Bill Kristol.

Mr. Kristol, I do not understand how you guys expect to grow the GOP. You're attacking Obamacare. It's the only thing out there that's trying to help people get insurance. All I hear is about cantaloupe calves. All I hear is a Food Stamp president. I don't hear the compassion in this party. Does that worry you? How are you going to grow?

KRISTOL: Well, no, I think Republicans need to grow, and I think, actually, the big mistake to the Romney campaign was not having an economic message that spoke enough to working-class and middle-class Americans and explained that we are -- that Republicans do have policy proposals to help grow wages, to help grow jobs and to help address health reforms. A big mistake of the Romney campaign not to put forth conservative health-care reform agenda.

I think some conservatives are now talking about financial reform, so I'm for a populist middle class, working class Republicanism. I'm with you on that, but not -- but not -- not to have Republicans become like milquetoast Democrats.

JONES: God forbid.

KRISTOL: I think that's an extremely good phrase that Cornel has here that we need to dwell on a little bit more. You know?

JONES: Let me understand.

KRISTOL: They don't stand up for their appointees in the White House when they're a little controversial. They throw -- they throw a fine man like Larry Summers under the bus when he's --

WEST: Fine man. Fine man. God bless him and be with him. But the problem is this. You see, that you have to have something that you're willing to fight for.

KRISTOL: I agree.

WEST: If you've got single payer, people are willing to fight. You've got public option, people are willing to fight. But if you've got this middle-of-the-road position, you've got to try to get your troops out.

CUPP: Well, I agree. Republicans -- Republicans -- Republicans need to give alternatives and not just be negative.

KRISTOL: Absolutely.

CUPP: But let me turn this -- Van's question around. Because I was thinking about this, and I remember back during the campaign when Mitt Romney went into West Philadelphia. And Mayor Michael Nutter protested his visit and said, "Why is this guy here?" Mitt Romney was booed by the NAACP. I'm wondering: Is there an interest and a willingness among black Democrats to have a dialogue with white Republicans on any issue?

WEST; Sure. Sure. I mean, my God, we black folk, we have been some of the most open-minded, forgiving and embracing people in the nation. In fact we've got Clarence Thomas. Clarence Thomas is within our own community. So it's not like we've got to go somewhere else to have conservatives.

But the issue is this: Look at the Republicans cutting Food Stamps. That's morally obscene and spiritually profane. Poor people, 4 million poor people may be being pushed into poverty.

KRISTOL: How much -- how much did Food Stamps go up in the last four years?

WEST: They've gone up -- you know why?

KRISTOL: They've doubled.

CUPP: And how much poverty --

WEST: Because this crisis of capitalism. Wages have been stagnant and going down.

KRISTOL: Wait. Who's been the president for the last four years? I thought the economy was roaring back under President Obama.

WEST: But Brother Bill --

KRISTOL: Republicans try to trim an overgrown entitlement program, and that's morally obscene?

WEST: No, but when you've got neoliberal policy, then this is when neoliberalism goes hand in hand with your neoconservatism. Privatized militarized support big bank banks and big corporations result in what? Working class devastated. Middle class downward mobility. Escalation of poverty.

So yes, you're right, we've got a lot of Food Stamps increasing because of what? People are suffering.

KRISTOL: But Dr. West -- Dr. West --

(CROSSTALK) KRISTOL: I feel I have to --

WEST: It's not the president. It's the neoliberal politics of the whole Democratic party.

CUPP: But Professor West, median -- median household income has dropped by more than $4,000 adjusted for inflation, since 2000; poverty rate is up.

WEST: The top 1 percent, 95 percent of all income growth.

CUPP: President Obama admitted that the folks in the middle and at the bottom haven't seen wage or income growth.

WEST: Exactly.

CUPP: That the folks at the top have.


WEST: Absolutely. The larger tendency.

KRISTOL: Here's something I think we can agree on, probably. That actually I do think, honestly, the political party of 2016 has a -- addresses these problems. Which I agree: the Republicans haven't done as much as they should have. But I don't think honestly the Obama administration has done much on. That I think a political party, political candidate could win in 2016.

CUPP: Right.

JONES: Let me talk to you about that. Because people are beating up on President Obama, but when I look at the last ticket. Do you agree with people like Mitt Romney, who says that 47 percent of Americans are takers and, worse, you have a Paul Ryan who says as many as 60 percent of Americans are takers, not makers. To get to that number, you have to include every single person who's on Social Security, every veteran, every disabled person. Do you believe, like apparently Paul Ryan, that 60 percent of Americans are takers and that being on Social Security makes you a taker, not a maker? Do you agree with that?

KRISTOL: No. Well, I mean, I don't think that's quite fair to Paul Ryan, because I think he was trying to explain something more analytically. But no. I objected. When Romney said the 40 percent thing, I said he's probably lost the presidency. And it's a -- it's wrong. It's analytically wrong. It's foolish, and it was a mistake --

CUPP: A mistake we will probably pay for for a while.

KRISTOL: And it's where Republicans have gone a little off the rails.

WEST: But that part of the cold-hearted mean-spiritedness I'm talking about. You agree that that statement is cold-hearted and mean- spirited? KRISTOL: Well, I --

WEST: Do you agree?

KRISTOL: I'm cold-hearted and mean-spirited in a more enlightened way. No, that's not cold. It's just foolish; it's just silly.

CUPP: It's bad message.

KRISTOL: But you can be tough-minded about reforming programs and improving them, targeting them, and not having Food Stamps double over four years without being cold-hearted and mean-spirited.

WEST: But Brother Bill, though, your Judaism, which is one of the great moral breakthroughs in the human race in terms of weakness, vulnerability of a person accented, kindness to the stranger, the loving kindness to the oppressed, how do you reconcile that with your ties to big corporations for these cold-hearted mean-spirited formulations when it comes to poor working people?

KRISTOL: I think the Republican Party should have fewer ties to big business and big corporations. I think the Obama administration is the one who's been in bed with that.

WEST: But Mitt Romney? You supported Sarah Palin.

KRISTOL: She's not a big business, big corporation. She's a working person --

WEST: In terms of her status, but in terms of her policies, my God.

KRISTOL: But you're just going to say --


WEST: Bashing Obamacare. Bashing Obamacare every day.

CUPP: But how can you not admire a woman like Sarah Palin who picked herself up by her bootstraps. Five kids, one fighting overseas, one born disabled. She made her way up from nothing through the good-old- boy network to become a mayor, city councilwoman, the first woman governor of Alaska, and vice-presidential candidate. How is she not the example of the kind of life you would want for most Americans?

WEST: Because even given her upward social mobility, her sentiments and temperaments side with the well-to-do --

CUPP: Because she's a Republican. That's it.

WEST: No, no, no. Democrats side with the well-to-do, too. I think both parties, both parties need to be radically called into question. See, I am a thorough going leftist in the sense that I don't go out with the neoliberal Democrats, milquetoast conservatives, Republicans, mean-spirited. This is true on foreign policy. Drones. Killing innocent people. Innocent -- CUPP: Oh, you don't have to convince me that Obama's foreign policy has been --


WEST: Even your attitude toward Rand Paul. Rand Paul for me is strong on this issue, and I agree with him on this issue.

JONES: Well, let me challenge you for a second.

WEST: Absolutely. Absolutely. You deserve to be.

JONES: You talk a lot about love and forgiveness and all that type stuff. And frankly, you are a great moral hero --

WEST: I am a Jesus loving, free black man.

JONES: Yes, you are. And a moral hero in our country. Do you think that you've shown enough love toward President Obama? I think there are people who feel like this critique that you extend is important. But they also wonder where is the love for this president? How would you answer that?

WEST: I would say that I have a righteous indignation for any politician who uses the legacy of Fanny Lou Hamer, Martin Luther King Jr. to promote neoliberal policies that generate privatized education, that use drones that kill innocent people, innocent children, that side with Wall Street. Larry Summers, God bless him. God bless him. Is he tied to Wall Street more than Main Street? God love him.

KRISTOL: You know him better than I do. I don't know a lot about Larry.

WEST: It's not a hatred. It's a matter of looking at the evidence.

JONES: You're my mentor. You're my mentor. You're my friend. We taught at Princeton together.

WEST: And I've learned so much from you, my brother.

JONES: We all walk in your footstep, but I think when I listen to African-Americans, there is a concern that our greatest intellectual. You're going to be -- go down in history for this era. You've got the first black president, and where is the love? I understand the critique, but where is the love?

WEST: No, because the love is first for the suffering people. See, that's the righteous indignation. That's what it means to go into the temple in Jerusalem and run out the money changers. Now I'm no Jesus. I'm a cracked vessel. But that's what it means to listen to Amos (ph).

CUPP: And let me -- I think Van would like you to forgive the president for some of his ills.

But let me challenge you, Bill, my friend here on the right. I look at the Republican Party right now, and while, yes, it seems fractured, it also seems to me like a great opportunity. We have such intellectual diversity. Why can't we have a Chris Christie and a Rand Paul or -- and a Ted Cruz and have that be a wonderful thing instead of such a division?

KRISTOL: Look, I think it's healthy. If you ask me, when I look at (ph) the Republican Party, with all due respect to these men, where individually you find them, Bob Dole and Mitt Romney and George H.W. Bush, and they were kind of just dominant, and no one was questioning anything and it was chugging along with the same policies of the last 10, 20, 30 years, I would be depressed.

In fact, we have a Republican Party with governors like Bobby Jindal and Chris Christie and Suzanna Martinez and Mike Pence. That's not even a bench. It's on the field.

CUPP: Yes.

KRISTOL: And governing. They're actually governing, and they're governing successfully, applying conservative principles. And people in Congress and the Senate like Tom Cotton and Paul Ryan and yes, Ted Cruz. I can't resist saying that. Just to get one last rise out of you. These guys are in their 30s, 40s, early 50s; it's the next generation, guys.

JONES: Well, we've got to have you both back at some point.

But I want to thank you, Cornel West.

I want to thank you, Bill Kristol.

Next, we're going to "Ceasefire," and we're going to see if there's one thing that both of us can agree on out of all this discussion. Very, very good.


CUPP: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, we've been debating Obamacare. Now let's call a "Ceasefire." Is there anything we can agree on?

I think, Van, that you and I both want to return to compassionate conservatism. That we think that that's been missing. I happen to see it in folks like Mike Pence. I see it in folks like Paul Ryan. I know you disagree there. But compassionate conservatism is a good conservatism. It's good for the party, and it's good for the debate.

JONES: Yes. I think -- I think that's right. You know, Newt Gingrich, for instance.

CUPP: I know him.

JONES: Happens to be one of our co-hosts.

CUPP: Yes.

JONES: But he came out with Ben Jealous (ph) and started talking about the prison system and the way that it could be improved using conservative principles. So I do think that we're better when both parties are better. And I think that I was really impressed to hear Mr. Kristol talk about that.

CUPP: Yes. I think -- I think conservatism is at its best when it's either making a strong intellectual argument like Barry Goldwater, Irving Kristol. Or a good emotional argument. That's Reagan. That was "W" on a lot of issues. And Jack Kemp. And I think that kind of emotional connection has been missing.

JONES: I'd like to see that. I think that's right. I think it's good for everybody to bring a little more heart and soul back.

Well, listen, we are glad to get a chance to talk about some stuff that we agree on.

CUPP: Great guests tonight, yes.

JONES: The debate is going to continue online at, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

From the left I'm Van Jones.

CUPP: And from the right, I'm S.E. Cupp. Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.