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Interview: Sen. Judd Gregg leads GOP effort today to derail health-care reconciliation bill

Sen.Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and the GOP will launch a raft of amendments beginning today to attempt to derail the health-care reconciliation bill. The House passed the health-care overhaul legislation on Sunday night and President Obama just signed it into law a few moments ago. The reconciliation bill makes changes to the main bill and is the GOP's last hope for any impact.

There are those who think Gregg and his GOP colleagues are nothing more than sour-grapes obstructionists committed to doing anything to spoil the culmination of the Democratic Party's half-century goal of providing universal health-care coverage to Americans.

But there are plenty -- including Gregg and his fellow Republicans (and a few million tea partyers) -- who believe this health-care bill is a fiscal disaster, a ticking debt bomb we're handing down to future generations, assuring them of a worse America than we enjoy and an irreversible expansion of the federal government into our lives.

I had a phone interview with Gregg this morning, asking him about his battle plan in the Senate today. I have lightly edited the questions and answers for brevity and clarity:

What’s your strategy and your party’s strategy for the health-care bill in the Senate?

We're going to offer a lot of substantial amendments that deal with health care and student loans. [House Democrats] threw student loans on the train. Along with the quasi-nationalization of health care, the bill includes the entire nationalization of student loans. Nineteen million students who get their loans through banks are guaranteed through the government. Now, they'd have to go through the Department of Education to get their loans. That's an increased borrowing responsibility of half a trillion dollars. The Department of Education would get government bonds at 2.5 percent and lend to students at 6.5 percent. The government is arbitraging the students. That's been under the radar.

Where will you start today?

We'll start off with the Medicare issue. This bill does fundamental harm to Medicare solvency. This bill reduces Medicare by $1 trillion when fully implemented, then takes the trillion and instead of making [Medicare] solvent, creates new entitlements ... thus making Medicare weaker in the long term. The first amendment, I think, will require that Medicare savings go to protect Medicare. That seems to make sense.

What are your realistic hopes -- to derail this bill or make some noise in the November election?

I think hopefully both. There are a lot of people very upset, very angry out there. More importantly, they are just plain scared about what we're passing on to our children. Historically, you get in trouble if government spending becomes more than 20 percent of GDP. This bill takes debt to well over 25 percent of gross domestic product. People are asking themselves, "How can we afford that? How can our kids afford more debt?" It creates more tax burden, makes us less competitive and reduces the standard of living to our children. My sense is that we're on the verge of passing on a weaker country to our children than we received and enjoyed. We are creating massive debt and moving down the road of European-style government. This is the fourth major nationalization issue that this government has taken. It has expanded government dramatically into the private sector on the theory that government creates prosperity. I believe prosperity is created by individuals.

For those keeping score, the four major nationalizations are...?

Health care, the financial system, the automotive industry and now student loans.

Okay, that said: What do you do about the 30 million or so uninsured Americans?

The proposal I had and [Sen.] Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) had did that but in a much more cost-efficient way. It did not require a very rich coverage. What it proposed was catastrophic coverage. If you're a young person who doesn't buy health insurance and you have a serious injury, you wouldn't be wiped out. Nobody would lose their home or their assets because of sickness. And you incentivize a healthy lifestyle and prevention. This bill has no health-care reform. There's no language in it that is going to reduce the cost of health care through changing the way people buy it, and that's just a huge opportunity lost.

Let's move out past the health-care bill and talk about debt in a larger sense. What can Europe's sovereign debt problems tell us about our future?

That that’s our future.

Is California our Greece?

California will be worse than Greece for us if it defaults because it will have a domino effect on other industrialized states that have overextended themselves. The Chinese are warning us almost weekly. Our ability to sell debt is going to become harder and harder. Just this week, treasuries went out at a higher price than debt being issued by Warren Buffett! That's a sign of a fundamental problem. That's a huge red flag. There is less confidence that the U.S. government will pay back its debt than Warren Buffett will. We are on a path to fiscal insolvency, and this health-care legislation will aggravate that.

There's one other thing I want to get at. At a Hill hearing on Feb. 2, you really lit into White House budget director Peter Orszag over his plan to spend $30 billion in unused TARP money to create jobs. Why did that anger you so?

When we did the TARP negotiations ... I was insistent that since taxpayers put up the money, when it was recouped it would go to pay down the debt we had incurred. That specific language is in the bill. But when this administration sees a pool of money, it is the nature of my colleagues across the aisle to want to spend it. I find it incredibly irresponsible and a violation of the trust of the American people who put up the money that it should be spent on the piggy-bank idea of the day.

Follow me on Twitter at @theticker

By Frank Ahrens  |  March 23, 2010; 12:03 PM ET
Categories:  Congress , Deficit/debt , The Ticker  | Tags: GDP, Judd Gregg, Medicaid, Medicare, Republicans, debt, deficit, healthcare reform  
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Comments

Grandmother gave me a hippo-bank. She's still sitting there with a smile on her face. I'm going to drop a quarter in her and then I'll draw for a bit. We'll see who hangs high. It gets expensive, so keep the presses rolling and the ice cream frozen.

Posted by: tossnokia | March 24, 2010 7:43 AM | Report abuse

someone else wrote: "Uh Oh: ObamaCare on Day One
Mar-25-2010
President Obama promised that his health-care plan would be good for families and for businesses. But the Wall Street Journal breaks down why companies are already warning about higher health-care costs for their employees. The message from some companies is very clear: "Expect changes for the worse to your health benefits as the direct result of this bill, and maybe as soon as this year."

From this great piece on the WSJ editorial page, it's clear that ObamaCare's effects are already being seen in American corporations. Caterpillar has already said this "reform" bill would cost the company at least $100 million more in the first year alone. Then medical device maker Medtronic warned that new taxes on its products could force it to lay off a thousand workers. And now Verizon joins the roll of businesses staring at adverse consequences.

From the WSJ: "When Congress created the Medicare prescription drug benefit in 2003, it included a modest tax subsidy to encourage employers to keep drug plans for retirees, rather than dumping them on the government. The Employee Benefit Research Institute says this exclusion
"In a $5.4 billion revenue grab, Democrats decided that this $665 fillip should be subject to the ordinary corporate income tax of 35%. Most consulting firms and independent analysts say the higher costs will induce some companies to drop drug coverage, which could affect about five million retirees and 3,500 businesses. Verizon and other large corporations warned about this outcome.

"U.S. accounting laws also require businesses to immediately restate their earnings in light of the higher tax burden on their long-term retiree health liabilities. This will have a big effect on their 2010 earnings.

"While the drug tax subsidy is for retirees, companies consider their benefit costs as a total package. The new bill might cause some to drop retiree coverage altogether. Others may be bound by labor contracts to retirees, but then they will find other ways to cut costs. This means raising costs or reducing coverage for other employees. So much for Mr. Obama's claim that if you like your coverage, you can keep it
"In its employee note, Verizon also warned about the 40% tax on high-end health plans, though that won't take effect until 2018. "Many of the plans that Verizon offers to employees and retirees are projected to have costs above the threshold in the legislation and will be subject to the 40 percent excise tax." These costs will start to show up soon, and, as we repeatedly argued, the tax is unlikely to drive down costs. The tax burden will simply be spread to all workers the result of the White House's too-clever decision to tax insurers, rather than individuals."

Obama is a DISGRACE.

Posted by: ignoranceisbliss | March 26, 2010 7:29 AM | Report abuse

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