Schumer Says "Wind Is At Our Back"

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., on "Face the Nation,"
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., on "Face the Nation," November 22, 2009.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer boasted of Democrats' unity in pushing their health care reform package over a major procedural hurdle in the Senate Saturday night, saying on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday that his party showed "real momentum."

"Last night was a very good night for us," Schumer told CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer. "Look, there are still many bumps in the road, discussions, arguments, disagreements. But I think now the wind is at our back. There's real momentum."

Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl said that every Republican was united against Saturday night's vote, which formally brought the bill to the Senate floor for debate, because their constituents told them to do everything they could to stop it.

"The best way to stop it is not to start it, but rather to go back and start over again with more Republican ideas in legislation than is currently the case," Kyl told Schieffer. "That's why you have every single Republican saying, 'No, not this.'"

Kyl argued that several polls indicate Americans would rather have the process delayed than have senators pass a bill that is not "right" for the country.

"Orrin Hatch said the Republicans will launch a holy war of delay," said Schieffer. "Is that going to happen?"

"The object is not to delay for delay's sake but rather to have an opportunity for everyone to see what's in it, to understand it, to know how much it costs and to know how it's going to impact their lives," Kyl said.

The Republican complained that there have been "so many deadlines": "'It has to be done before August.' 'It has to be done before October,' so on. Now the president says he's got to have it by the end of the year."

Schumer responded by saying that enough time has been spent writing this bill.

"This has been debated for a long, long time," Schumer said. "Now is the time to act."

On the so-called public option, which some moderate Democrats and Independent Senator Joe Lieberman have said would prevent them from supporting a bill, Schumer said he believes Democrats can get the 60 votes needed to pass health care reform even if the final legislation includes government-backed health insurance.

Schumer argued that the bill contains only a "modest public option" and the government plan will not knock out its competition, because both government and private insurers would play by the same rules.

"In other words, we say to private insurance, you have to have reserves in case you go bankrupt so your policy holders are still there. Same with the public option. We say that you cannot cut people off . . . when their health care bills go up too much. Same at the other. So it's a level playing field public option.

"One does not have an advantage over the other."

He said the government-backed plan creates "good old-fashioned American competition," and yet provides an opt-out for states that do not want to participate.

"What we will say to the people from the more red conservative states [is], your state doesn't have to take it. But don't make it so that my state, which would like a public option, can't take it. And the opt-out works. I think at the end of the day, everyone is going to agree."

Kyl, however, was one who did not.

He said government cannot "be both a competitor and the umpire" when it comes to health insurance, and argued that the propensity of the word "shall" in the legislation would give tremendous power to the Department of Health and Human Services.

"As a result, a lot of people fear that when the government is both the competitor and the umpire, obviously they win," Kyl said.

Schieffer asked Kyl why he was opposed to a government insurance program like Medicare but for younger people.

"It is the first in a two-step process to get to a single payer system," he replied. "There are people on the left in this country who support that. Most people do not. This is seen as a way to get there."

Kyl quoted from a study released earlier this year by the Lewin Group, which predicted that 88 million people would drop their employer-based insurance (or be dropped by their employers) if the government introduced its own (supposedly cheaper) insurance plan.

Schumer retorted that the Lewin Group study had been discredited since they were revealed to be wholly-owned by United Health Care, the nation's largest health insurance provider.

"Doesn't mean they're wrong," said Kyl.

"In this case they're very wrong," Schumer said. He quoted Congressional Budget Office numbers saying a more modest public option would cover 4 to 6 million people.

"Here's the reason we need a public option, we very much do: The insurance industry is about the most highly concentrated industry in the country. In many states 81% of the insurance is by one company. In 40 states, two companies dominate. When there is no competition or very little competition, every economist - left, right and center - will tell you the costs go way up.

"So you need to inject some competition into the insurance industry."

Kyl disputed characterizations that some states are under-served by private insurance companies, leading to less competition and higher premiums.

"There are a lot of states where there aren't enough people, either in terms of a risk pool or in terms of the network of physicians and hospitals, to put together a lot of different competing plans," Kyl said. "You don't help that by adding one more plan."

Schieffer focused part of the discussion on Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, who provided Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Saturday with her crucial support hours before Saturday's vote. Reid needed a supermajority of 60 votes to approve beginning the bill's debate on the Senate floor, known as cloture. Landrieu provided her vote after Reid added to the bill $100 million in spending for her state.

"Well, you haven't heard Republicans saying, 'Here is my price,'" Kyl told Schieffer. "In order to get every single vote sometimes you do resort to things that appeal to a particular senator or in the case of the House to a particular representative. The American people don't like that when they see it. It should be on the merits.

"When these senators, for example, say we'll vote to start the bill but that doesn't guarantee our vote at the end, the pressure at the end of the process is enormous," said Kyl.

But Schumer defended the horse trading among Democrats.

"Mary Landrieu is a very good legislator," Schumer told Schieffer. "She does two things very well. One, she delivers the goods for Louisiana. She has constantly. I think the people of Louisiana respect her for it. But, second, she has real views on health care. Those are taken into account as well."

When Schieffer pointed out that the horse trading indicated Democrats have problems staying united, Schumer said his party is filled with differing points of view.

"We are a diverse caucus," Schumer said. "When we become 60 members, we get members from red states. But what we've shown is unity throughout."