Sebelius: Congress Must Pay for Health Care Reform

By Jennifer Parker

Jun 14, 2009 11:40am

During my interview with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on “This Week” Sunday the secretary wouldn’t commit to a presidential veto on health care reform legislation that adds to the federal deficit.

But she did urge Congress to pass a health care reform bill this week that is fully paid for.

“He’s very serious about having health reform this year and having it paid for,” Sebelius told me about President Barack Obama. 

The president yesterday promised health care reform will not add to the ballooning federal deficit. He has argued Congress could save about $900 billion in health care by slowing Medicare and Medicaid spending, trimming federal payments to hospitals, and previously announced tax increases.

But despite the fact that many in Congress are rejecting Obama’s savings plan, Sebelius argued Obama wants a bill that doesn’t add to the nation’s ballooning federal deficit.

When I asked whether Obama would send any bill that wasn’t fully paid for back to Congress, Sebelius said, “Absolutely he wants a bill that’s paid for, not to increase the deficit at a time when we’re looking at looming deficits.”

I pressed her several times on whether Obama would veto legislation that didn’t include full funding, but Sebelius stopped short of issuing any threat.

“I don’t think veto threats at any point are particularly helpful,” she said, “What’s better is to come to the table and get something done.”

The biggest flash point right now is the option of a public health care plan to compete with the private sector.

Republican senators and some Democrats have come out hard against any public plan. Regardless, Sebelius told me the president will continue to push for it.

“I don’t think it’s any surprise that insurance companies would rather have a system where everybody must buy coverage and there are no competitors,” she said, “Absent a public option, absent some kind of competitive option, people would have no choice. There’s one dominant company and that really doesn’t drive innovation, it doesn’t drive much in terms of quality care and that’s really the goal at the end of the day.”

In my exclusive interview on “This Week” former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., argued any public option will be a red line for Republicans…calling on Republicans in Congress to reject the plan.

“Yeah, of course they should,” Romney said, touting the Massachusetts health reform legislation he signed into law in 2006.

“Let’s learn from our experience and that is we got everybody in our state insured, some 98 percent now are covered by insurance, and we did not have to put in place a government plan,” he said.

Romney argued there is plenty of competition already among private health insurance companies. Calling Obama’s public plan a “Trojan horse” Romney urged Republicans to defeat the public plan. 

“This is not about getting competition in health insurance which is already there,” Romney said.

“This is instead a Trojan horse. Barack Obama when he ran for office said he was in favor of a single payer systems. He’s said it for years. This is a way of getting government into the insurance business so they can take over health care. It’s the wrong way to go and every single Republican and every thinking Democrat who knows something about the private sector would realize the wrong thing for America is to get government into the health care business.” 

–George Stephanopoulos

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