STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me also get at the question of how to pay for all this, because that is one of the -- the toughest issues to solve here. And the Senate Finance bill got about $200 billion from this excise tax on -- on -- on high-priced health insurance plans, but a coalition of organized labor and about 178 House Democrats have said this is going to be a middle-class tax increase on people who have insurance.
Here's what the -- the unions wrote. They said that 40 percent -- the enormous tax would soon hit 40 percent of all plans. Mostly likely to be hit: plans with people who are older or sicker or those who work for small employers. That's not the change America voted for. A new tax on the middle class is unacceptable.
Does the president agree with those unions who say that this excise tax is a middle-class tax increase?
AXELROD: Well, the analyses of this have suggested otherwise, that the bulk of it is not going to hit middle-class people. Because in his -- in his -- in his...
(CROSSTALK) STEPHANOPOULOS: ... percent.
AXELROD: In his campaign, as you know, he opposed John McCain's proposal to completely eliminate the -- the tax exemption on -- on health care benefits. And he still believes that. But this -- this is a tax on insurance companies, a fee on insurance companies on high- end policies. Everyone agrees that it'll help lower the growth in health care costs, and it will help contribute to the reform we need.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But the...
(CROSSTALK) AXELROD: But having said that, George, the president has -- we're going through a process. The House has its proposals. The Senate has its proposals. We will pass bills in both -- in both chambers. We'll go to a conference, and we'll hammer these issues out.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me -- let me just press this one more time, because it was -- this was not just any analysis. This was the Joint Committee on Taxation. This is a bipartisan, bicameral body in the -- in the House and the Senate, and they say that this is going to hit 40 percent of all plans. That is going to reach in to the middle class. If it does, would the president sign it?
AXELROD: Well, let's see what -- I think that this thing is going to be adjusted as we go along, so let's see what the final proposal says before we talk about what the president will or won't sign. The president is going to sign a bill that will provide greater security for people who have insurance, that will help people who don't have it get it, and will lower the overall cost of health care. And if it doesn't meet those standards, then he won't sign the bill.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The president has drawn one other very red line in the sand, that he won't sign any health care bill that increases the deficit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits, either now or in the future. (APPLAUSE)
I will not sign it if it adds one dime to the deficit now or in the future, period. (END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yet just this week, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, is going to bring a bill to the floor that -- Republicans call this the first installment on health care, which is going to permanently repeal savings gotten from payments -- Medicare payments to doctors, $248 billion over 10 years. Must that be paid for, for the president to sign it?