Senator Chuck Schumer is the third-ranked Democrat in the Senate, one of the most prominent advocates for a public plan, and among the earliest Democrats to recognize that the ongoing negotiations with Senate Republicans had become a waste of time. I talked to him last night about the politics of health-care reform; an edited transcript follows. Earlier today, I spoke with Rep. Tom Perriello about some of the same issues.
What do you think the president needs to do tomorrow during the health-care speech to get things rolling again?
Well, I think he’s got to lay out a fairly specific plan. One of the weaknesses we’ve had is that we don’t have a specific plan. I don’t think he needs details as to the exact number of this or level of that, but really what he’s envisioning to be health care in some degree of detail. That’s what’s needed most. Without the detail they make up these lies about the plan, you know, they just make things up and scare people. And without the plan, it's also very hard to say here’s how its going to benefit you.
In the month or so ahead, what does the White House need to do?
I think they’ve got to be much more involved, and much more focused on what they actually want, as opposed to saying, 'let Congress do it and we’ll fix it in conference.' That never really happens. When House and Senate pass bills … you’re not going to end up with something totally different in the conference.
I think a lot of people are expecting conference to fix that. I mean, does the White House -
No, you know, you can change things but its not going to deviate that far from either bill. You have a really poor bill in the Senate and a really poor bill in the House, the odds of getting a very good bill out of conference are too small to risk.
I’m curious, the leadership was trying to use reconciliation as way to force Republicans to the bargaining table. Do you think that failed and do you think reconciliation is still part of the plan?
I think we still have to look seriously at reconciliation because even with 60 Democrats, you know, if we’re able to get somebody here from Massachusetts, it’s not easy to do.
Are you planning on having an interim appointment from Massachusetts?
No, I don’t know. That would be up to the Massachusetts state legislature but I know they’re considering it. Ah, so, so the bottom line is that even with 60 or even if Olympia Snowe comes to some kind of agreement, it’s going to be hard, and I’ve always favored using reconciliation for good parts of the bill. I think that will get you the best bill, the strongest bill and the bill that will have the greatest positive effect on the American people. Ultimately, we’ll be judged not by whether we pass the bill, but ultimately we’ll be judged by weather it works. Leaving the bill as something that doesn’t work, even if we pass it, leads to hurting both the country and the party.
-- Tim Fernholz