Transcript: Axelrod

AXELROD: Well, look, George, I think, if the president weren't tough, we wouldn't be where we are vis-a-vis trying to deal with the economy, two wars, and some -- remember what he inherited here. He walked in the door, we had the worst economy since the Great Depression. He had to take immediate steps to pull us back from what many thought might be a Great Depression. He had to sort out in Afghanistan a war where we had seven years of drift and no policy. And he passed a series of things that are going to move this country forward, from children's health care to pay equity for women, a series of things.

This Congress has passed more legislation in the first term of this president than any president in our lifetime. So I think he has been plenty tough. I think people want toughness, but they also want to have thoughtful leadership. And that -- and that requires reviewing these issues, thinking them through clearly, and bringing people along, and that's what he's doing.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So -- so you reject this argument that he has to draw more lines in the sand, twist the arms of his opponents, now tell people want he wants and expect it to get it done?

AXELROD: Let's take the issue of health care, because that's, obviously, one of the things that people are referring to. We are farther along than we've ever been in passing a comprehensive health insurance reform in this country. It's something we've discussed for 100 years.

George, you were part of the last effort in 1994, never even got a vote. We are on the doorstep of getting that done, and that's because of the approach this president has taken.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And yesterday, the president in his radio address took on the insurance industry, at least rhetorically, and he suggested that he might be willing to take away their antitrust exemption. Was he actually saying -- this has been -- the insurance industry for the last 60 years has had an antitrust exemption. Was he saying that he would sign a bill that would take that away and open the door to premium caps by the Congress?

AXELROD: Well, Congress is -- is reviewing that. He said it's appropriate that they review that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Would he sign it, though?

AXELROD: But let's talk about -- let's talk about the insurance industry for a second, because most of the stakeholders in this health care debate are at the table, they're trying to produce real reform, because everyone knows the current system is unsustainable.

The insurance industry has decided now at the 11th hour that they don't want to go along with this. One of the problems we have is we have a health care system now that functions very well for the insurance industry but not well for the customers.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So is he saying, if they don't play ball, they're going to lose their antitrust exemption?

AXELROD: So what we need -- what we -- so we need these -- we need these reforms. In the last year -- in the last 10 years, premiums have doubled. You've seen the insurance companies take -- they -- they -- 10 years ago, 15 years ago, they spent 95 percent of their premiums on health care. Now, 80 percent. More of the money is going to bonuses, salaries, administrative costs.

This is -- this is not a sustainable path for this country. So we need reform, and that's what he is arguing for.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But if they don't join the reform effort, will they lose their antitrust exemption?

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