CELESTE HEADLEE, for The Takeaway: Xavier Becerra, you have come out very strongly in favor of a public option. Are you willing to compromise on it?
REP. XAVIER BECERRA (D-CA): Celeste, I think if you are looking to have meaningful reform of our health care system, you can't just put the broken system on steroids by pumping more money into a private insurance system that has led a lot of people to drop their coverage because they can't afford it or are never allowed to get on it in the first place. The only way you have real competition that will keep prices down is to have a real competitor in the market with those private, for-profit insurers. And that would be a public option like Medicare.
HEADLEE: But do you realistically, at this point, feel like you can get something passed with a public option included?
BECERRA: Oh, sure. Because like you just said, it is just one option. No one has to select that option, just like no one has to select Blue Cross or Aetna as their choice. No one is being forced to go to any particular private insurer; no one would be forced to go to any public option plan. People would get to choose. Why government would want to limit the consumer's choices by immediately restricting the number of options out there is beyond me.
HEADLEE: But the question isn't how the consumers will accept it once the bill has been passed, whether or not they will be happy with their choices or not; the question is can you get the 60 votes that you need? Can you bring a Republican into the fold? Or, your two moderates and your Independents? Can you get the votes that you need?
BECERRA: I think if they were made to understand what the public is beginning to understand, that the public's choice are being limited by those saying that we must not have a public option in this reform bill. If that becomes the case, I think we'll see more and more members of Congress voting in favor of reform that would include any number of options and then let the consumer decide.
HOCKENBERRY: Well, Congressman, though, it seems that the numbers are going in the other direction for you. You represent the district in Southern California, in the L.A. area and the 31st Congressional district. But broadly speaking, most people, 51%, are opposed to what they think of as Obama's plan for health care reform. And all the reporting seems to suggest that whatever the House passes, if it has a public option, the Senate will pass something without a public option, and in the conference committee public option is going to be stripped away. Obama has walked away from you, it appears.
BECERRA: Well, I don't agree. I believe the President is fighting hard to get reform passed. But he himself has said to make this meaningful reform you have to include competition that will give people choices and keep costs down. You can't do that if you don't have inserted into this reform a real plan that will compete and force others to compete to try to get business from the consumer at the best price.
HEADLEE: But if you end up with a health care plan that does not include the public option, will you break with the president?
BECERRA: Well, I don't think the President has broken away from having a public option. But it would be difficult for me to believe that you could have meaning reform of the system that will bring prices down and help provide coverage for all Americans who don't have it unless you have the options out there that really would create that competition. Why we would want to restrict people choices makes no sense.
HEADLEE: I assume that many of your views on health care are informed by your wife and her experience. She's an obstetrician. Is that correct?
BECERRA: OB/GYN, Yes.
HEADLEE: And she has helped you understand, kind of from the grassroots level, exactly how the health care reform my affect your constituents. Are you hearing from the people of Los Angeles that they support the public option mostly?
BECERRA: I just did a telephone town hall. The fourth of the month for me. And in asking the question about the public option, like Medicare, about 70% of those who were on the line ? it was not scientific of course, it was those who were on the line ? and I had about three to four thousand on the line at any time, had said that they would support or wanted to see a public option within this reform.
HEADLEE: OK, Xavier Becerra, have you heard from the President details about the framework of his plan during this recess?
BECERRA: I spoke to him last week. We spoke for about a half hour and he told me more about his principles and his goals and how he was hoping to get support of members of congress. We had a good conversation and I believe what he is doing is trying to work as hard as he can to get as many members as possible to get on behind a reform effort that will be bought and sold by the congress to the American people so we can get moving forward.
BECERRA: - Or get moving forward with a reform that gets everyone health care at a good cost.
HEADLEE: Xavier Becerra is a congressman from California, Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus.