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San Diego's Congressional Reps Talk About Health Care Bill

San Diego's Congressional Reps Talk About Health Care Bill
San Diego Congressmen Bob Filner and Brian Bilbray talk about their votes on the healthcare reform bill.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Members of the House of Representatives voted for health care reform last night. The vote was 219 to 212, with San Diego's representatives voting along party lines, the Democrats voting yes, Republicans no. Joining us to talk about last night’s vote, first I’d like to welcome Congressman Bob Filner, Democratic congressman from San Diego and Imperial County’s 51st District. Congressman Filner, welcome. Good morning.

BOB FILNER (California Congressman, 51st District): Hi, Maureen. How are you?

CAVANAUGH: Quite well, thank you. What’s your reaction to the passage of the healthcare reform bill?

FILNER: Well, I’m elated for my constituents. You know, Maureen, I have 150,000 constituents in my district who don’t have health insurance. And after this bill takes full effect, they’ll – 135,000 or 140,000 of them will be insured. That’s an incredible improvement that brings down the cost for every taxpayer in America but makes sure that these families have high quality healthcare for their families.

CAVANAUGH: Now as you are very well aware, this has been a long struggle, and way back August you were on the program. You said you wouldn’t vote for any bill that did not include a public option and, of course, this bill did not include a public option. Why did you decide to vote yes for this bill even though it didn’t include such an option?

FILNER: Well, it’s a major step forward in many ways and I hope that, you know, down the line and – that we’ll be able to add the public option. Remember, what this does is, it puts new constraints on insurance companies. They cannot deny us insurance for preexisting conditions. They can’t just take us off insurance because we’re spending too much money on whatever problems we have. It insures, as I said, so many people in my district but 30 million people around the country. It makes sure our young people who may be in college or otherwise unable to afford health insurance, they’ll be able to stay on their parents’ plan until age 26. So there are so many good things in this bill. It makes sure small businesses will be able to get their employees insurance. So we can, you know, keep enumerating these things but it’s a great step forward. I think it’s historic at the level of the Social Security Act in 1935 or Medicare in 1965.

CAVANAUGH: You know, while many progressives are, indeed, celebrating the passage of this bill, it is of too many people, kind of watered-down version of what they were hoping for. Why do you think even this version was so difficult to pass in the House? This was kind of a squeaker of a vote.

FILNER: Well, there’s a lot of misinformation about the bill and I think we, as Democrats, did not explain it care – fully enough so people could understand, and the Republicans and the, really, the rightwing and the insurance companies were able to set the tone of the debate. And that’s our fault for allowing that to happen. But they scared people, they scared people into thinking this is a government takeover insurance or this is socialized medicine or whatever. There are the costs, a trillion dollars. It actually saves the country a trillion dollars. So a lot of fear was propagated and frankly, you know, we took too long to pass and those myths sort of took hold. And I hope within the next few months, with the president going out around the country and the bill will be a fact, that we’ll be able to get the full story out and I think people will appreciate it.

CAVANAUGH: Congressman Filner, I know you had a very long day yesterday, so I want to thank you for giving us a few minutes this morning. Thanks for your time.

FILNER: Thanks, Maureen, for covering this.

CAVANAUGH: And that was Congressman Bob Filner. I’d like now to welcome Congressman Brian Bilbray. He’s a Republican representing San Diego’s 50th District. And good morning, Congressman.

BRIAN BILBRAY (California Congressman, 50th District): Good morning, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: What’s your reaction to last night’s vote?

BILBRAY: Well, I think that it’s the first time we’ve seen, that I can find, is in the history that we’ve had this kind of major legislation done by one party without any kind of outreach over to the other side. And now when we look at this, on the face of it, Maureen, as Bob said, this bill was the bill that was passed mostly because Senator Brown got elected in Massachusetts and the attitude was, well, let’s do whatever we can do, no matter how bad it is. And what we’ve got now is, we’ve got, you know, the Cornhuskers subsidy that is, you know, a deal that was cut still in this bill. We’ve got things like the Louisiana Purchase, $300 million subsidy for Louisiana that’s going to be paid by everybody else. We got Florida got a deal. So all these backroom deals that everybody was appalled about with the Senate bill is still in there and that got passed last night and it will be signed into law tomorrow, along with stuff like changing TRICARE, which is really a big deal to active duty and veterans, moving TRICARE out of the Defense Department and moving it over to HHS, which handles the Welfare program so I think a lot of our active duty and retired people in San Diego are going to be really upset about that.

CAVANAUGH: I wonder, what was your reaction to the Congressional Budget Office assessment that this bill will actually reduce the deficit by about $143 billion over the next 10 years?

BILBRAY: Well, that…

CAVANAUGH: Was that a surprise?

BILBRAY: That’s because garbage in, garbage out. They took out the $300 billion doctor fix, which is going to come in in a couple weeks after Easter, so what they did is they took out a big price tag item to try to make it look like if they added a half a trillion dollars worth of taxes which could’ve gone to deficit reduction but what it ends up pumping that – and they went out and took billions out of Medicare, saying, oh, well, we’ll save that somehow in the future, rather than sitting down and working with both sides on how do we reduce the cost of healthcare? Because remember, Maureen, this is not healthcare reform, this is health insurance legislation. It really is not a – it’s not going to make sure a doctor’s there, it’s not going to make sure those things are there, but it also has a sweetheart deal for like the pharmaceuticals. Now they get a whole lot of exclusive patent rights that were stuck into this bill in the Senate that I bet you no – most members of the House don’t even know about. They’re sweetheart deals where the wrongful death for denial of service by a – by an insurance company now is thrown out. You’ve got a whole lot of those little things that nobody took the time to read those thousands of pages or took the time to understand what the references were and now that’s going to come out more and more. That’s why, why force a vote and push it through when you had the fact that we were all going home for two weeks anyways. Allow the American people to see what it was and let’s work on it, except they were scared of the fact of the reaction once people saw all these little details.

CAVANAUGH: Now conservative writer, a former George W. speech writer, David Frum, has called Republican opposition to this bill that could become as popular as Social Security and Medicare, the GOP’s Waterloo, a crushing defeat. How do you respond to that?

BILBRAY: Well, I don’t – You know what, all these guys can say to politics about it, my quick question is that how are our grandchildren going to pay for this when we don’t know even what we’re going to pay for. And how do I tell my children now that for – they – for a U.S. citizen it’s no longer a right to live in the United States? That it is now a privilege, like driving a car, that can be revoked anytime the government wants to. That is a real – Maureen, that’s a real big deal. The insurance companies, as Bob had pointed out months ago, you know, creating a mandate that every American who lives on U.S. soil now must have to buy a product is something that I think everybody agrees is going to be a big constitutional stretch, and the end does not justify the means. We still are sworn to uphold the constitutional limitations and I’m just – I don’t – I just can’t think of the fact that we really believe that U.S. Americans now have a legal obligation to buy something if they want the privilege, you know, the legal privilege of living on U.S. soil, which is really a stretch. This is one I think that historians are going to look back and say, boy, the founding fathers are rolling over in their graves on this one. And the end does not justify the means no matter how much you say about this. You say, well, what about the people who are going to emergency rooms? Well, that’s a federal mandate, Maureen. The federal government created that situation with a mandate. Just why don’t we start by having the federal government pay for the mandates that are already out there like the emergency rooms and then those of us with insurance wouldn’t have to subsidize it. You notice that was always brought up but nobody talked about the federal government living up to the responsibility of its existing mandates before it created new ones.

CAVANAUGH: Again, Congressman, I know this was a very, very long night for you, and I want to really thank you for your time this morning. Thank you for speaking with us.

BILBRAY: Thank you very much, and thank you for this forum. I think it’s a great balance. I love, you know, the fact – Bob and I have worked together in local government a long time ago and it actually, contrary to what you think, there are Democrats and Republicans that function at different spectrums and still work together and I’ll tell you, Bob and I work together a lot, not just on our committee at Veterans but every five-hour flight back and forth, you’ll see Bob and I conspiring on something. So there is bipartisan support, at least in San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: At least up in the air. Thank you so much, Congressman Bilbray.

BILBRAY: Thank you very much.

CAVANAUGH: I’ve been speaking with Congressman Brian Bilbray and Congressman Bob Filner. And coming up, we’re going to go change the subject, tax tips, and take your calls as These Days continues right here on KPBS.

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