John Hockenberry for The Takeaway: “Blue Dog Democrat,” so-called, Jim Cooper, joins us now. Tennessee Congressman, we spoke to him at the top of the hour. He’s a Congressman, he’s one of the so-called Blue Dog Democrats, but he’s been teaching health care policy at Vanderbilt University for 12 years, so he comes by his authority rightly. Congressman, thanks so much for staying with us here.
Rep. Jim Cooper: Delighted to.
John Hockenberry: I’m going to come at you pretty hard right at the top here. There’s a Democratic majority in the House, a Democratic majority in the Senate, Democrats have the White House, it would appear that one might conclude that there’s a consensus in America that the Democrats’ vision is what should proceed in the government here, and for you and some conservative Democrats to stand in the way of that suggests that you’re standing in the way of a national consensus. How is that not the case?
Rep. Jim Cooper: I think if you look closer at this, you’ll discover the Blue Dog Democrats are probably more in agreement with the White House and President Obama on his three priorities of deficit neutrality, bending the cost curve in the right direction, and a bill that works. We’re more in tune with the White House than House leadership is. People need to understand that. They also need to understand that regardless of what we want to have in a bill, it has to have 60 votes in the U.S. Senate. That’s they key threshold. Because there are plenty of Democratic votes in the House, but how do you get 60 votes in the Senate? That’s going to take some kind of bipartisanship whether we want to have that or not. And while Senator Baucus is working on one bipartisan approach there are others. There’s the so-called “Healthy Americans Act,” the Wyden-Bennett bill, the SU Emerson Bill in the House, which is much more bipartisan that what Senator Baucus has been working on.
John Hockenberry: Is there a target for you and your colleagues in the House as you look at a version that you could actually vote for? Is it a price tag issue? Is it a co-op issue? Is it a government voluntary hybrid system?
Rep. Jim Cooper: The Congressional Budget Office has tested all the congressional bills so far and — guess what? — every one so far has failed except for the Healthy Americans Act, which is the one they won’t let us talk about. The President has insisted repeatedly, he did it on prime time television last week, the bill has to be deficit neutral. It has to bend the cost curve in the right direction. And so far the House bill is bending the cost curve in the wrong direction. That’s the opposite of reform. So it’s important to look at the details of this bill. It’s 1,000 pages long. We had a five-hour walk-through just the other night. That’s one hour for ever 200 pages. We still don’t feel comfortable with everything that’s in the bill. We’re working on it. We want the Obama administration to succeed at passing good health care legislation. We can do it on the President’s timetable which is this fall. We’re working 18 hours a day to get this done. I think the key is to realize that Blue Dogs are more in tune with the President’s budget priorities than the House leadership.
John Hockenberry: You said that. But it does appear that Americans do want something to happen. In an era when we’re spending a trillion and change on financial reform and bank bailouts and Freddy Mac and Fannie Mae, why not pay a trillion and a half for health care and worry about reducing the costs later? At least we get the change that we need, some sort of system in place to even begin to deal with some of these problems. Is $1.5 trillion over the top?
Rep. Jim Cooper: Listen more closely to the President, because he tells you the status quo is not an option. Why is that? Because our current health care programs, the programs we already have and take for granted, vitally important programs like Medicare and Medicaid, guess what? Each one is already over $30 trillion in the hole. That’s the current problem we face. That’s why we have to bend the cost curves in the right direction, because we have to make our current system affordable, much less before we talk about these add-ons. I’m for health care reform. I want a good bill to pass. I’ve been working most of my life on getting this to happen. But it’s very important that we get the details right. There’s huge inequities between different states. There are huge inequities between the quality of different health care system. And we can make that work better for everybody if we just work together and do it right.
Amy Holmes: Congressman, this is Amy Holmes here. I have a little bit different take on this. We’ve seen that the President’s approval ratings have gone down, and the public’s confidence in his handling of health care is going down. Does this give you pause? Does it make you nervous?
Rep. Jim Cooper: It worries me greatly. I’ve been pushing for health care reform right after inauguration day, because we had our bill ready completely bipartisan and scored by CBO to save money and bend the cost curve in the right direction. Unfortunately, other decisions were made by house leadership to take up other issues. I think we missed a precious six months of the honeymoon period. But it’s not too late right now, we can still get this done. The key is to have an open dialogue with all the American people, not just hardcore Democrats and Republicans, but also the folks in the middle who really are worried and skeptical and want to know what’s in the bill, and we can do that during this August recess.
Amy Holmes: Congressman, let me get back to a point you just made. You keep talking about House leadership. You hear some Democratic grumbling that the president hasn’t weighed in enough, that there’s been a lack of leadership on Pennsylvania Avenue to forge this bipartisan consensus. What do you say?
Rep. Jim Cooper: I think we need more adult supervision in Congress. We’re a group of 435 people, it’s very difficult to organize, and the White House has the bully pulpit so we welcome their supervision.
John Hockenberry: Isn’t part of the problem, though, with the bill that you say was ready to go during the honeymoon period, is that, in fact, the 46 million uninsured Americans, most of them would be out of luck under that bill?
Rep. Jim Cooper: Oh, completely wrong. CBO scored the bill. It’s the only bill that would actually cover everybody. The House leadership bills that they’re talking about would leave, depending on your measure, between 17 million to 10 million people out entirely. Our bill would cover everybody. So we’ve got to get our facts right, and too few people have looked at this thoroughly, original, bipartisan, Wyden-Bennet, Healthy Americans Act approach.
John Hockenberry: Alright. Tennessee Congressman Jim Cooper.