JOHN HOCKENBERRY: Jackie Calmes, does this hold up the
debate in some sense or does it hand Rahm Emanuel and the Obama
administration something of a gift, in the sense that it's easy to
portray the GOP as obstructionists here? Jackie?
JACKIE CALMES: Well, I think a gift is exactly what it
was and the phrase I would have used myself. It just sort of dramatized
for the public, including people who maybe aren't so supportive of what
the president is trying to do, the sort of opposition that he's up
against. That's what it suggests. I mean it's one thing for people to see
through August that some opponents were rude and not letting everyone's
voices get heard as they shouted out, but it was another thing to see it
from the floor of the House during a joint session of Congress. I've
covered Congress over the years part-time or full-time for 26 years, and
that was back during the Reagan administration, and you really started to
see this in both parties – this sort of sport in the audience of Congress
about indicating whether they liked or didn't like – we're just getting
quite close to the British Parliament system – but you never saw that
kind of rudeness, ever.
HOCKENBERRY: Well, and we should point out, the Brits
are doing alright. They lost their empire, OK, we'll give them that. But
I mean in a sense, it hasn't destroyed British democracy to have that
kind of rancor in Parliament. But, let's listen to Barack Obama, who was
speaking on Wednesday night. In many ways, I'm wondering if he is partly
to blame for all this confusion and backbiting and complaining about the
entire health care debate. Listen:
[President Obama, on tape] Too many have used this to score
short term political points, even if it robs the country of the
opportunity to solve the problem of a long term challenge. And out of
this blizzard of charges and counter charges, confusion has reigned.
HOCKENBERRY: So the reigning president, Representative
Marsha Blackburn, says confusion has reigned. And one could argue that as
impolitic and impolite as Joe Wilson was, he was attempting to get
clarity from the president. Isn't it the president's responsibility to
make this debate clearer? And is confusion partly his fault here?
BLACKBURN: There is confusion on exactly what that bill
– H.R. 3200 – would do. Because the president has said one thing – you
have the promises the president has made that the bill would deliver,
that health care reform would deliver. Unfortunately, in Tennessee, many
of those promises were made with our health care system. Those promises
were broken and that program nearly broke the bank. Tennessee had the
test case for public option health care. So...
HOCKENBERRY: And Massachusetts, we should point out, is
struggling with the public option – the mandate option anyway.
BLACKBURN: That's right. That's exactly right, and Maine
has had problems as well. So, there is no example where public option has
worked. There's also the confusion - they say, well, this doesn't allow
abortion funding; this doesn't allow funding for illegal immigrants. But
the problem is the language in the bill doesn't explicitly exclude that.
So you get into how that is written – and also, on top of this, you have
situations where unfortunate comments were made by the Speaker about
people who were coming to some of the events this summer.
HOCKENBERRY: So anxiety and frustration was building up,
and that's a fair point.
BLACKBURN: Yes, and Harry Reid saying unfortunate things
about President Bush when he was still there. And of course, he refused
to apologize. And you also had the situation when President Bush was
there and trying to work on Social Security and Medicare reform and he
was heckled by some of the Democrat party. So...
HOCKENBERRY: So as Jackie Calmes was saying...
BLACKBURN: ... this is nothing new.
HOCKENBERRY: This has been coming for a long time.
BLACKBURN: That's right.
HOCKENBERRY: Let me remind people, we are speaking with
Representative Marsha Blackburn, representative of Tennessee. And Jackie
Calmes is also with us, Washington correspondent for our partner The New
York Times. So, in steps: Jackie, John Boehner - Republican leader in the
House, to find some clarity. Can he do it? Listen.
[Representative John Boehner (R-Ohio), on tape] It really is
time to just stop. Hit the reset button and sit down in a bipartisan way
and begin to deal with what we can deal with to make our current health
care system work better.
HOCKENBERRY: Jackie Calmes, it seems "hit the reset
button" is a bit of a mantra there during the Obama administration and
now to hear a Republican using it. Is that going to happen? Reset?
CALMES: No, it's not. I mean the legislative process is
just really seriously getting underway here in the fall. Four of the five
committees that have to act have approved a bill but really the crucial
one is the Senate Finance Committee and it's supposed to act. But
hitting, you know, it isn't – if I really, or anybody – it's not just me.
Most people – there's no real way you could really start from scratch and
expect to get House Republicans especially, and I think Congresswoman
Blackburn would agree, and certainly most of the Senate Republicans to
come along. Just as Democrats in 2003, uh, 2005 were not going to go
along with President Bush in making Social Security to create private
accounts for individuals. Neither are Republicans going to go along with
the plan or outline that President Obama and the Democrats are working on
to overhaul health care. It's just not going to happen.
HOCKENBERRY: But in this particular case, Jackie Calmes,
the Washington correspondent for The New York Times, the Democrats have
the numbers in this case. So, Representative Marsha Blackburn,
Representative from Tennessee; I mean, if they can railroad a bill or
vote a party line vote and get something passed, do you have a campaign
issue or do you pretty much have to say to your constituents: we want
reform, this isn't the best, I definitely want to improve things so you
know, help out the administration here?
BLACKBURN: I think the bigger point is that they have an
issue with the American people if they move forward on that. That's an
issue for them to address with the American people. The American people
have spoken out clearly. All the polls indicate they do not want a
government run, government delivered program. They do want health care
reform. We all agree. There needs to be health care reform. So the
HOCKENBERRY: That's the lack of clarity.
BLACKBURN: That's right. And their problem is going to
be with the American people. My hope would be – and you know, I think
Jackie would agree with this. Every relationship, every good relationship
you have in your life is seeded, is grounded in respect. And there should
be that respect shown from each individual to the other members of the
body. It should be shown from those members of Congress to their
constituents. It should be shown for the institution. And I think the
American people would like to see that their opinion is respected in this
HOCKENBERRY: But I think the American people are
frustrated with health care bills and issues of all kinds.
BLACKBURN: I think we all are.
HOCKENBERRY: They may be worried that Congress is
spending its time talking about being polite and decorum and manners.
Jackie Calmes, I heard you sighing there in the background. Do you want
to give us a final thought here?
CALMES: Well, I don't know if it's sighing but
the thought that I would leave is that I think you can quibble with a lot
of the details that might come out but I think what would happen if a
health care bill does pass is, in reality, people would see it is
anything but a new government-run system or much more government-run than
we already have with Medicare and Medicaid; V.A. veterans' benefits and
children health benefits. So I think the Democrats, and I think they
believe this too, what will get them over the line is that better to pass
something than do nothing.
HOCKENBERRY: Alright, Jackie Calmes, Washington
correspondent for our partner The New York Times, speaking to us from the
nation's capital. We're also speaking with Marsha Blackburn, member of
the House Energy and Commerce committee, who represents the state's
(Tennessee) 7th congressional district. Congresswoman Blackburn, thanks
so much for being with us.