TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Steve Chiotakis: It took until just past 2 o’clock Eastern time this morning for the Senate Finance Committee to get through the last of the amendments attached to health care reform. That’s cleared a path for health care to make it to the floor of the Senate — a top priority for President Obama. The committee will cast a final, formal vote early next week.
Beyond that, what comes from Congress is anyone’s guess. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich is with us this morning to talk about it. Good morning, sir.
Robert Reich: Good morning, Steve.
Chiotakis: So are we going to see health care reform enacted, or is this gonna be some sort of repeat of 1994?
Reich: It will be enacted. One big difference between 1994 and now is that President Obama early on made sure he had the support of the pharmaceutical industry, health insurers and even the AMA.
Chiotakis: And it wasn’t a very hard sell though, was it?
Reich: Not particularly, because he promised them that they would do better with reform than without it. Because reform means tens of millions of new paying customers.
Chiotakis: But Bob, for bigger profits, aren’t we talking about more money from beneficiaries and from taxpayers?
Reich: Well, there’s been a lot of talk about new efficiencies obviously, but you’re basically right, Steve. And much of the background drama in all of this is about keeping industry on board while at the same time controlling future costs so that neither people who have to buy insurance nor taxpayers get socked with too high a bill.
Chiotakis: So how does all this background drama get played out?
Reich: Well, there’s broad agreement that companies will have to play or pay — that is, provide insurance to their employees or pay a penalty. Individuals will have to buy insurance or pay a penalty. And people who cannot afford it will be subsidized. But the pharmaceutical industry does not want Medicare to be able to use its bargaining muscle to get lower drug prices. So there’s a struggle over that. And private insurers don’t want a public insurance option. That’s another fight. So far, industry is getting most of what it wants.
Chiotakis: Do you think, then, there’ll be enough votes to at least get the basics?
Reich: Yes. I mean, all House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has to do is make sure no more than 40 Blue Dog Democrats jump ship, and all Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has to do is line up 60 votes. That’s not for the bill itself, but just for procedural motion to get the bill to the Senate floor. After that, he needs 51. And after all, he’s got 60 Democrats.
Chiotakis: Yeah, but what about the Republicans? I mean, they’ve been steadfast against most of the president’s health care proposals, right?
Reich: Yeah, but there’s really just one Republican that makes a difference. That’s Olympia Snowe from Maine, who’s inclined to vote for the health care bill. Her vote is critical because it not only allows the president bragging rights about the bill being bipartisan, but more importantly, it gives Democrats from swing states and districts some cover, because they can tell the folks back home that even a Republican supports this bill.
Chiotakis: Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who teaches public policy at the University of California Berkeley. Bob, thanks.
Reich: Thanks, Steve.