After yesterday’s two hour long open forum on health care at Jefferson College in Hillsboro Senator Claire McCaskill (D) took questions from some of the media in attendance:
Senator Claire McCaskill: Hi guys.
Voice: Hi Senator.
Question: What was your reaction to the crowd today?
Senator McCaskill: You know, I, I wouldn’t, let me say it this way. This is hard, but, I’m proud of, overall, the people that came out today and that most of them wanted to stay through it and ask questions and answer questions. I think it is a healthy thing for Democracy. And I, I wouldn’t want to do it every afternoon for the rest of my life [laughter in room] because it was obviously contentious. But that’s okay….
Senator McCaskill: I just hope that the word goes out that every member of Congress can and should have these kinds of meetings. I don’t think we should shy away from public discourse just because it gets a little rocky…[crosstalk]
Question: Why do you think you’re able to handle it and other members seem to have trouble with these meetings?
Senator McCaskill: I don’t take it, I think [garbled] I don’t take it personal. I think there’s a tendency of, of many people who get into office that sometimes people get to thinking they’re a pretty big deal. And they don’t stay grounded and realize this isn’t personal with me. They’re not angry at me. They’re frustrated and angry about their view of what government is doing and they want a place to vent that. So, I, it’s fine. I think it was great and I hope it gets reported that it was great. It’s unfortunate we had one little incident, but it was over in a nanosecond and we were back to answering more questions.
Question: Is this something new to you in, in town hall meetings where people are so openly skeptical with jeering, with booing sometimes, that they’re just kind of in your face? It seemed like a different climate.
Senator McCaskill: It, It is, not that there haven’t always been people who were upset and there are always some people who shouted out and who were not, didn’t want to listen to the answer. They’ve made their mind up and they didn’t want to hear anything that would confuse their view. And that’s fine. The problem here is that so many people that have made up their mind and they’re not listening. And what I want everyone to stay focused on is that there’s a whole lot of Missourians who haven’t made up their mind, who know something’s wrong with health care and costs going up and insurance companies having their way with them, but they’re not really sure how we can go forward. And I want to make sure those people stay in the conversation.
Question: They tell us they’re afraid you’ve made up your mind and they’re afraid there’s no room for compromise. [garbled] You feel like your position after this tour gets a little softer, things change a little bit? [crosstalk]
Senator McCaskill: Well, I don’t, I, I , well certainly I’m gonna listen. And I haven’t made up my mind. And the people who think I’ve already made up my mind and I’m not capable of independent judgment or compromise don’t know me very well. [crosstalk]
Question: Did I? [crosstalk]
Senator McCaskill: And I think a lot of this folks frankly, probably don’t know me…
Question: Senator, did I hear you promise today that you will vote against any bill that doesn’t give you the same coverage as everybody else?
Senator McCaskill: I think, basically, I think that is something that we should do. I agree that whatever we vote for, in terms of the options that will be available to the general public, they should be no different than the options available to Congress. But I’m confident there’s gonna be options. And I think Congress should have the exact same options as everybody else in America.
Question: I sense that people feel the President, though, is not as open to looking at compromise. [garbled] They think that he’s going to basically create a system that will force [garbled] in ten or fifteen years into a [garbled] program.
Senator McCaskill: I think when the history books are written about this President he will go down as a great pragmatist. This is someone who has appointed a lot of Republicans to his cabinet. I think he’s already shown flexibility in terms of what he’s willing to talk about and consider in the health care bill. I think there are certain things he really wants to get done – which are the things you hear about, heartbreaking stories about pre-existing conditions, someone getting this terrible traumatic illness and all of a sudden the insurance companies say sorry, you’re gonna take bankruptcy and lose your home and [garbled] your life savings, but we’re not gonna cover you anymore. I think he feels very strongly about those things. But I think ultimately this is a very pragmatic President that wants to improve health care in this country. And he is open to various ideas. I think that’s why he’s let Congress kind of try to grow these bills organically. While he’s weighed in and provided leadership he has not said my way or the highway. Ever.
Question: Senator, is there anything that you heard today that might affect how you approach things in Washington after the recess when it comes up again? Is there anything that came up or the way people responded that you thinking oh no, maybe I should consider that?
Senator McCaskill: Well, I think that there were some points made in some of the questions that are of concerns [garbled]. Well, I think making sure that we don’t incentivize employers to drop health care coverage. That’s important. And that was brought up in one of the questions today and I don’t think there has been enough discussion about that issue. So that’s one issue that I’m gonna drill down on and, and make sure we’ve thought that through. I had yesterday, a doctor in southeast Missouri bring up something. And that is, if we incentivize doctors on good outcomes is that gonna encourage doctors to dump difficult patients? If they’re gonna get reimbursed based on what your outcomes are, then if you know that you’ve got somebody you’re seeing as a doctor that’s not gonna follow directions, that’s not gonna do what they’re supposed to do, not gonna take their medicine, then aren’t you gonna be tempted to say, sorry, I’m not gonna see you anymore? So, those are two things I’ve heard in the last two days that I think we really need to take a hard look at. And both of those are valid [garbled]. [crosstalk]
Question: [garbled] questions about costs, though. I don’t think it has to do with [garbled] problems.
Senator McCaskill: Well, I, I , I’m, we’ve already got some costs that we’ve put into the budget. And the, the price tag on the health bill that’s come out of committee is about six hundred billion. Now, how it’s paid for will come out of the Finance Committee. So all of us are waiting with bated breath. How these Republicans and Democrats are gonna come together on how we pay for this. And I’m optimistic that they’re gonna have a way we can pay for it that will not hit the middle class. I can’t support it if there’s any increase in the cost to the middle class. It’s not fair to [garbled].
Staffer: Sorry guys. [crosstalk]
Question: The [garbled] version is six or seven hundred pages long. How much time does Congress reasonably need to, to read it so they can [grabled] [crosstalk]
Senator McCaskill: Well, if they’re prepared they will have read big parts of that already because what will happen is you’ll take parts of one bill and parts of another. So, my ad
vice to members of the Senate is to read every page of the bill that’s come out of the Health Committee and then read every page of the bill that comes out of Finance Committee and then you’ll probably be prepared to be able to review any of the bill. But I think there’s gonna be plenty of time. Can you imagine how long it’s gonna take to debate this bill on the floor? I mean it will be weeks. So I think there’ll be plenty of time for us to carefully review amendments and the bill’s [garbled].
Staffer: That’s all the time we have guys.
Question: Your comment about the middle class, so, does that mean that you oppose the idea of taxing some health care benefits? I mean that’s been banged around and Baucus [crosstalk]…
Senator McCaskill: I’m opposed to taxing health care benefits that are going to the middle class. I want to make sure that there’s no cost increase to any family that makes less than two hundred fifty thousand dollars.
Voice: Thank you Senator.
Senator McCaskill: Thank you guys.