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Obamacare: A Trick or a Treat?

Aired October 31, 2013 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, Washington's mixed bag for Halloween. Scary poll numbers and a Web site haunted by glitches and security questions.

On the left, Van Jones. On the right, Newt Gingrich. In the CROSSFIRE, Bill Richardson, Democratic former governor of New Mexico, and Bob Ehrlich, the Republican former governor of Maryland. Obamacare, a trick or a treat? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Newt Gingrich on the right. Happy Halloween.

VAN JONES, CO-HOST: And I'm -- happy Halloween to you, too, Newt. And I'm Van Jones on the left. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, we've got two former governors, Bill Richardson and Bob Ehrlich.

On this Halloween, the worst trick that nobody is talking about is what Republican governors are doing to their own people. Millions of Americans get up every morning, and they work hard all day long, but they just don't make enough money to afford insurance, not even under the new Obamacare exchanges, and they make too much money to qualify for Medicaid. That's why Obamacare includes federal dollars for every state to expand Medicaid to help those working families.

To me there is nothing more ghoulish than Republican governors rejecting that money and denying their own citizens life-saving health insurance just to score political points. So that's my happy Halloween to you, Newt.

GINGRICH: Well, I know this is a very difficult concept for our friends on the left to understand, but a lot of governors actually believe that being bankrupt would be bad. And they believe that spending a lot of money we don't have is not good.

And so actually, in a lot of cases they're making a principled decision: one, to not spend money they don't have; but two, to avoid federal regulation and Washington controls. And it's quite clearly a philosophical difference.

But tonight we're very fortunate, because in the CROSSFIRE, we have two former governors, Democrat Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Republican Bob Ehrlich or Maryland, and they're both tremendous governors, and they're very smart guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just ask us, right?

GINGRICH: I'm glad both are here.

But let me start my going to you, Bill. Because I mean, you've been at this a long time. Doesn't it bother you that yesterday in Boston finally the president admitted that, for at least 3 1/2 years, he has been going around the country telling people something that just wasn't true, that in fact everybody wasn't going to get to keep their insurance. And finally, he broke down and admitted that, for a minority, but for a substantial number of Americans, that what he had been saying for three and a half years was inaccurate.

BILL RICHARDSON (D), FORMER NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR: Well, what he also said was I think what is very apparent is individuals will have more options. They'll have a choice.

Look, there have been glitches with Obamacare. However, more people are getting insured. My state, and Governor Ehrlich -- who I have a very high regard, I hate to be debating -- but, you know, there are Republican governors -- and I mentioned this. I was just in Ohio yesterday. Governor Kasich of Ohio has accepted the Medicaid funds and talked about needing a safety net. Other governor -- Republican governors have accepted that. And I bet you my friend, Governor Ehrlich, had he been governor...


RICHARDSON: ... would have accepted the funds.

EHRLICH: The problem is it's three years of free cash, and then it's what? You go formulaic. And Bill, you know -- and by the way, likewise, we get along very well. There's no problem for the show. It's three years of free cash. And Medicaid, as you know, and speakers have tried to deal with for many years, is driving state budget deficits, and has for the last two decades. And governors are increasingly being squeezed in that regard.

JONES: And...

EHRLICH: It's candy up front...

JONES: Is your solution to let people go without medical assistance? I mean, what is your solution?

EHRLICH: Of course not.

JONES: So you're saying if you were governor and...

EHRLICH: I would say -- I can't answer that. I honestly can't answer that, because I'm not -- I don't know the fiscal situation of the state, obviously, as well as when we were in. But there -- there's lots of things to do. And I have to tell you...

JONES: I'm frustrated. I know you're going to say something important. Let me just tell you, I think we've got a lot of people who are watching this show right now, and they say, you know what? You've got Republican governors who have people who are working hard in those states who are going to get screwed, and they're going to get screwed unnecessarily. And it's not -- it's not -- hold on a second. We can talk about that. But it's not just the high-minded fiscal notions. This is political points scoring in a lot of these states. Don't you agree with me on that?

EHRLICH: It's Washington micromanaging, which is the problem with this entire bill, and the expert with regard to this bill is actually sitting right there.

RICHARDSON: You know, Governor, when you and I were governor, you remember President Bush came out with his prescription drug program.


RICHARDSON: And immediately it was attacked, and it was unpopular. Today, you know, I will say very few people are complaining about it. It's actually, I think, a good program.

I think what we need to do is give this Obamacare, give it a chance. Cool down; let it get going. Let's see what's going to happen at the end of November. They've got to fix this glitch, but I do think more people will be covered. You're hitting the uninsured. You're helping the uninsured. I think what we need to do is calm down. Let's unify and see if it's going to work. I think it is going to work.

EHRLICH: Wait, wait. Democrats drove Part D. We talked about that when I was a member, and Newt was the speaker. But it was the market orientation that I would argue that has made it so successful, something that Democrats listened to, if you recall. Because that was the example where Republican and Democrats sitting down and negotiating.

The problem with Obamacare, it was one party, one control, no Republican votes, no true reaching out with regard to a lot of good bipartisan ideas that were available at the time.

And Van, the historian is right here, but let me ask you, Mr. Speaker, name another significant monumental public policy vote in the Congress of the United States in the history of this country that passed with not one vote from the minority party. Very few.

GINGRICH: Very, very, very few.

EHRLICH: And that's why it has no goodwill today.

JONES: I want to argue this, but I know you have more to say.

GINGRICH: It's an interesting question. I think you'd have to go back a long way to find something this narrowly partisan that was passed the way it was passed. Let me ask this, Bill.

A fairly famous student of public policy, Barack Obama, said in 2009, it is not sufficient for us to simply add more people to Medicare and Medicaid, to increase the rolls, to increase coverage in the absence of cost controls and reform. Another way of putting it is we can't simply put more people into a broken system that doesn't work.

Now in your state, New Mexico, you're already 700 doctors short in a report this last week. When you expand the Medicaid provision, which I think your state is going to do, you add, I think, 175,000 more people who are going to try to go to the -- try to go to the doctor's office when there are already 700 doctors too few. Isn't it part of the problem, that we have narrowly focused on one piece of a really complicated health system? And there are a lot of other pieces that have got to be fixed?

RICHARDSON: Well, you know, I don't defend my current governor, but she accepted Medicaid. Many other Republican governors in the west have done that and in fact around the country.

Look, I think what this is important that is happening is, one, with Obamacare, more people will be insured, especially those who can't afford it. Secondly, costs are going to go down. And third, you have options. Again, I think the president -- we get this problem with the glitch fixed, and you will see that individuals will have more choice, that they will have an opportunity to get a plan that costs less, that has more coverage. That's what...

GINGRICH: Listen, if you were in charge, wouldn't you think a month of this fiasco is a little bit more than just a glitch?

EHRLICH: The glitch is the high water mark here. You have young people getting sticker shock. You have the independent advisory panel out there that -- we don't use the term "death panel" -- wait until that kicks in. Wait until the group market -- the large employers in this country start -- start throwing substance into the exchanges. Wait until the tax increases. I mean, this is the high water market. This is the computer glitch. This can be fixed. Most of this bill cannot be fixed.

JONES: This is the -- this is the kind of alarmism, I think, that actually does a disservice (ph).

I want to show you something and get your response to this. A very famous economist who actually helped to design Obamacare, hearing more concerns, other concerns, created this amazing graphic. It shows, look at this, 80 percent of Americans -- talking about winners or losers here -- are going to be completely unaffected by Obamacare. Three percent are going to have essentially no cuts, but 14 percent are going to be clear winners. These are people that had no options for insurance in the past. And then there's about 3 percent that may be negatively impacted.

Now, wouldn't you say that a system that goes from 14 percent losers to 3 percent possible losers is at least an improvement?

EHRLICH: Does that include the folks who otherwise would have gotten full-time jobs but only get 29 and a half hours? Does that -- does that... JONES: You know, the "Wall Street Journal" today came out with a headline saying there is no evidence that part-time jobs are increasing. That's your paper, the "Wall Street Journal."

EHRLICH: My paper? Three-quarters of all the jobs created last month were part-time jobs, especially in anticipation of Obamacare.

JONES: We will argue about this after the break.

GINGRICH: Let me just take a minute here. Let me tell you about a trick that is not a treat. Obamacare has a marriage penalty built into it that could cost you as much as $11,000. We're going to visit the wedding tax, next.


GINGRICH: Welcome back. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, former governors Bill Richardson and Bob Ehrlich.

Let me share with you the president's Halloween tweet. It says, "Don't let anyone scare you out of getting affordable health insurance."

Now, let me tell you about a real trick rather than a treat. The great problem with ramming a 2,700-page bill through Congress without anyone reading it is you get things you don't know about and you don't understand. One of the many examples with Obamacare is what happens to two people who each make $30,000 a year.

If they get married, it will cost them $11,000 in taxes and higher premiums. Take a look at this: $60,000 joint income, $11,000 hit. Probably, by far, the highest anti-marriage penalty we've ever had.

And I ask you, Governor Richardson, as you look at this bill, aren't they going to have to reopen the bill to fix things like this?

RICHARDSON: No, I think what we need to do, Newt, is give this bill a chance. Let's make sure that everybody has options. And we're going to know this very soon.

The concentration on this whole bill has been on the Web site. Look, no one is defending that. They should have gotten their act together. But you know, eventually I think that the American people are going to have more options, more choices. They can pick -- they can pick a lower cost of coverage. Uninsured can be covered. Employers will have more options, too.

GINGRICH: But are you suggesting that we make 2014 the year of postponing marriage for people who are right in the middle class...

RICHARDSON: I don't know if that's the case. I haven't looked.

GINGRICH: This comes -- this is not our stuff. This comes directly from the Kaiser Foundation, who are pro-Obama.

JONES: But we don't have -- as Democrats, am I wrong? We don't have a problem with upgrading the bill, improving the bill, opening this thing up? If there's...

EHRLICH: You could have fooled us. There's been no...

JONES: We don't want to do it under the threat of a shutdown...

EHRLICH: How about today?

RICHARDSON: Governor, you and I -- Governor, you and I by law have to balance budgets, as governors. We did.

Obamacare was the reason that the Tea Party Republicans tried to shut down the government. I mean, that's not a way to fix it. They were so against it.

Tactically they don't want to -- they wanted...


EHRLICH: Well, substantively, I agree. Tactically, I agree with you. It was not the right place to fight. Not the least of which, by the way was the politics and tactics, it took all this bad press off the front pages for two weeks. Could have had four weeks instead -- forget about this bad press.

I'm concerned, in all seriousness, in the group market, with large employers, some of whom already indicated "See you, bye. Drop, pay the fine. See you in the exchanges, employees." These are employees who have been happy with their health care. And we're going to see that quote repeated time and time again.

So look, there's going to be various phases of this kick in, and I don't know whether I should say this, but I don't think the numbers work. I don't think the actual numbers work, particularly with regards to the stats (ph) we have now, which is more Medicaid than anything else.

JONES: Well, look, I mean, you are correct that there are dangers and perils when we try to make this kind of change. The problem I think that we have on our side is that the last system that we had was horrible. And we didn't see Republicans jumping up and down every time somebody got hurt in the last one.

Don't forget, now that only 17 percent of people in the individual market, in the old system, could survive for two years with the same plan. They were getting dumped and dumped and dumped. You guys were nowhere to be found. Now suddenly, you're Ralph Nader. You care more. You're the biggest consumer protection party in history for the past four weeks.

EHRLICH: Eight-five percent of the people in this country are generally pleased with their health care. And were there issues? Were there issues? I guarantee one thing. A guy like him and a guy like me could have sat down and drafted a bill that would have scratched the itch for the 15 percent. Not hard. This was a total makeover.

JONES: Now here we go, here we go, here we go. Now the history on this...

EHRLICH: You're supposed to agree with that, Bill.

JONES: But I want -- I want you to correct the record. We've been hearing this over and over again, this history that Democrats just rammed this horrible idea down. Was this not a Republican idea that we put forward that the Republican voted against?

RICHARDSON: The president did reach out on this to Republicans.

JONES: Thank you.

RICHARDSON: And I think it was considered something tactically. And, you know, the minority leader, Mitch McConnell, said, "Our objective is to defeat the president."

JONES: One-term president, no matter what.

RICHARDSON: "We're not going to give him anything."

This is his domestic signature achievement, President Obama. And yes, when you have such a massive change, this is one of the biggest pieces of legislation since the New Deal. When you have such massive change, there are going to be problems. And -- and this -- look, I'm not...

EHRLICH: I used to whip moderate Republicans for him. Hey, I wasn't part of the whip organization. There were a lot of Republicans who wanted to vote from this from blue states. The politics would have been good for that...

JONES: Are you denying -- are you denying that McConnell said that his No. 1 job was to make him a one-term president? Are you denying that there was a meeting of Republicans while Obama was being inaugurated?

EHRLICH: Here's what I'm denying.

JONES: Talk to me.

EHRLICH: If the guy would have had any friends, and he had a whole lot of friends when he was in the Senate. He's had less friends now. You know that. He doesn't do that well as president. If he would have sat down and said, "You know what? I'm not interested in reinventing the world. I'm interested in extending some coverage?" How about defensive medicine? Has anybody talked about defensive medicine? Speaker, didn't they talk about him and doing anything with regard to it.


GINGRICH: Let me drag this -- and this is hard for me as an historian. Let me drag this back to the present, because I want to pick it back up, what I said a little while ago. Because I was a little surprised, Bill Richardson, by your response.

It's a fact that on January 1, if you're a couple, if you're dating and each of you earns $30,000 a year, if you marry, you lose $11,000 as of January 1. Now, isn't that a sufficiently big direct impact on human beings that the bill ought to be modified?

And we're going to find a number of things like that, where it's a little hard for me to say let's wait a year or two. Rip off a couple million Americans, and then we'll fix it. These things are pretty patently unsustainable.

RICHARDSON: Look -- look, I think that's one example. I don't have the facts on that. I do know when the business community went to the White House and the president and said, "Look, we need more time to adjust on this bill," on the coverage issue, the president gave him more time. He gave them substantially more time to work out the kinks. So...

EHRLICH: But why didn't he give the states more time to work out the kinks then?

RICHARDSON: Because the business community said, "We're not ready." He listened.

EHRLICH: I'm talking -- I'm talking about why didn't he give his own Web site more time?

RICHARDSON: We're not going to defend that.

JONES: We're -- we're not going to defend that (ph). Let me throw one more thing out there before we...

GINGRICH: I like that. Go in the tank.

JONES: I'll tell you what. You talk about going in the tank and going downhill. One thing that's going downhill, despite all this, is your party. I want to -- look at these numbers. You are now at a 22 percent positive, 53 percent negative. That's the worst view of the Republican Party in the history of polling.

As a former governor, do you look at these numbers and say honestly, the D.C. Washington congressional Republicans are destroying your party? Destroying your brand?

EHRLICH: Can I tell you the truth as you know it? The great seat of American politics, it's one of the reasons for this huge philosophical divide is state legislatures have created these safe, very safe seats. Strong right, strong left. These folks are going back, right and left. We've been there actually. They're here and go get them. Both right and left.

So I would argue the congressional approval generally can go to zero, one, and most of these folks are coming back because of the lines that state legislatures have drawn.

JONES: Well, that's very, very discouraging. Hopefully when we come back we're going to be able to talk about it more.

EHRLICH: But the Democrat -- the Democrat (ph)... JONES: We'll get those numbers. I want you guys to stay here. We're going to try to do a "Ceasefire." We're going to see if there's anything we can actually agree on. He want you at home to weigh in on today's Halloween Fireback question.

We also want you at home to weigh in on today's Halloween "Fireback" question: "Is Obamacare a trick or a treat?" Reply with either "trick" or "treat" using #CROSSFIRE. We'll have the results after this break.

GINGRICH: A little bit of editorial.


JONES: We are back with Bill Richardson and Bob Ehrlich. Now we are going to call a "Ceasefire." We've been talking about Obamacare. Is there anything that we can agree on? We'll start with you, Governor.

EHRLICH: Allowing insurance policies to be written across state lines, putting governors in a room, making it work, expanding choices, making it for the individual center, expanding personal savings accounts, expanding individual freedom with regard to free markets, I think generally we would -- we would agree.

JONES: Is there anything in that that you can sign off on?

RICHARDSON: Yes. I think the fact that Governor Ehrlich recognizes that states need to have more input, especially in the expansion of Medicaid. Especially in perhaps, although I support Obamacare. Maybe governors, bipartisan governors should have had probably more of an earlier stake in that.

EHRLICH: Governors know their states better than folks in Washington. We agree on that.

GINGRICH: And I think this is important. Is I think as we implement this expanded Medicaid, we're going to rapidly discover that we need to really figure out how to run the system. Not just how to pay for it.

And that's going to lead us to, I think, turning to the governors, and maybe in the next few years, having a bill that really creates a substantial increase in the ability of governors to manage, on a state by state basis, how Medicaid actually works. Big, big, big.

JONES: That's actually a lot of good. So I want to thank you, both of you governors, for being here.

If you want to be a part of this conversation back home, you can go to Facebook or Twitter, weigh in on our "Fireback" question. Is Obamacare a trick or a treat? Right now 62 percent of you say trick; 38 percent of you have the right answer, saying it's a treat.

The debate continues online at, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. I love you, Kibrala (ph) and Chi (ph).

From the left, I'm Van Jones.

GINGRICH: From the right, I'm Newt Gingrich. Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.