Face the Nation transcripts December 1, 2013: Menendez, Corker, Walker

The latest on the repairs of Obamacare website HealthCare.gov, nuclear negotiations with Iran, and more

(CBS News) Below is a transcript of "Face the Nation" on December 1, 2013, hosted by CBS News' Bob Schieffer. Guests include: Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Bob Corker, R-Tenn., Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, William Kristol, Bill Daley, Peter Baker, A Scott. Berg, and Doris Kearns Goodwin.

[*] DICKERSON: Good morning again and happy holidays. There are two breaking stories this morning.

First, a Metro North commuter train derailed in New York City. So far four people have died and more than 60 are injured, some of them critically. No word yet on what caused the derailment.

Also today, the Obama administration says dramatic progress has been made to the healthcare.gov website. To talk about that and last week's agreement to halt Iran's nuclear weapons program in exchange for some loosening of the economic sanctions, I'm joined by the two top senators on the Foreign Relations Committee. Democrat Chairman Bob Menendez of New Jersey joins us from New York and the ranking Republican, Bob Corker of Tennessee, joins us from Chattanooga.

Good morning to both of you.

Senator Menendez, I want to start with you. The administration says healthcare.gov is doing better. They've met their goals. Do you have confidence that that's the case?

MENENDEZ: Well, the announcement today that response rates are under a second; error rates are under 1 percent; 90 percent of the time the system's stable; it can handle 50,000 users, 800,000 visits a day -- if that's the case, then that's good news.

Because what this really is about is the technology challenges. But I think what we've lost sight of is that the underlying program itself, the product of the health insurance that Americans will be able to access, is critically important.

So this is the equivalent of having a great item that you want to buy in a store but not being able to get through the front door. It sounds like the front door has been opened successfully now, and hopefully we're going to have Americans get access to that health care they desperately need.

DICKERSON: Senator Corker, you know something about construction. The front door is fixed, but there are other issues here in the system. There was a delay before the Thanksgiving holiday from the White House on the small-business portion of the Affordable Care Act. There have been other issues. The insurance industry says there are delays getting good information from the website, which means you won't actually be able to get a plan if those errors continue.

So where is your confidence on this getting back on some kind of a track?

CORKER: Well, look, there are thousands of entities around the country that easily could have set this up with $600 million in three years. But, look, for all that -- we all get calls from incredibly distressed citizens who have had their policies canceled and yet are unable to enroll in a new plan.

So I do hope that the efficacy of this is much better today and will improve. But at the end of the day, while there will be a few winners, most Americans are going to find a less dynamic health system. They're going to find that the cost of the health care that they -- they're able to purchase is going to be a lot higher. And they're also going to realize that their choices are for less -- far less.

And so, for our country, you are going to have continued downward pressure on employment. You're going to have upward pressure on deficits. And so I still think the foundations of this plan have some of the same kinds of problems that the rollout has had, but they're fundamental, very hard to overcome. And unfortunately, as people enroll, I think there's going to be a lot of negative surprises as to what they're able to enroll in.

DICKERSON: So repeal it, Senator Corker?

CORKER: Well, look, I -- this is one of those things, when you try to fix one piece, it affects another piece. For instance, the president's move, which, you know, I'm glad he was trying to fix the promise that he made regarding people being able to stay on their plans. If that's the case, then you have this situation where potentially a death spiral ends up occurring and you end up having increasing costs for those people who do in fact enroll in the new system.

So I don't know how you fix the many fundamental problems of this program. I'm a strong supporter of dynamic marketplace exchanges. I do think we need to equalize the tax code so that, if you buy it individually, you get the same benefits that you do through a company, where it's tax free.

So I think there are things that need to be done and I think there are some elements that could be built upon. But, generally speaking, the fundamentals of this, to me, are -- were done in a way, a chaotic way, much like we're seeing the rollout.

It was done in a way that, really, there wasn't a vision at the end. It was just an amalgamation of legislation that didn't have a central focus. And so I don't know how you fix it. I'll be honest. I don't know how you fix a program that was put together in this manner, with only one side of the aisle, and taking the shortcuts that were taken to put it in place.

DICKERSON: Senator Menendez, before we move on to Iran, I just want to ask you one question. You used to be charged with helping get Democratic senators elected or re-elected. So give us your political take, quickly, on how much of a weight the whole health care rollout and its difficulty will be on Democratic senators trying to get re- elected or trying to win office in 2014?

MENENDEZ: Well, look, I think, when we get to the period of time at the end of the year, similar to the Massachusetts plan when it was rolled out, enrollment figures weren't great at the beginning; everybody waited towards the end. And that was a success.

I look at New Jersey and I think it's a replication of what's out there for the nation. You know, 73,000 young people are on their parents' insurance because of the new law. You know, 1.5 million women in New Jersey are getting additional health care benefits as it relates to their personal health. Senior citizens have saved $470 million in prescription drug benefits; 3.5 million New Jerseyans no longer face some lifetime arbitrary cap when they have a major illness.

So if that's a replica of what is happening across the country, I think that senators are going to be in a great position to say, "You know, look, we are doing dramatic changes that help you be able to meet the challenges for your family of health care and eliminate some of the greatest evils that existed under the previous system where you could have a preexisting condition and be denied health care; you could be born at birth with a disability and be denied health care; you could have a major illness and face that lifetime cap and now suddenly lose everything you ever worked for." These are the advantages of the program no one speaks about.