Rep. Blumenauer on health care reform, stimulus and bikes

The World


CELESTE HEADLEE: Good morning, Congressman.


CELESTE HEADLEE: So we get this news from the Congressional Budget Office, saying it’s going to cost more than $1 trillion over the next decade. Does that mean this health care bill in teh House needs to be trimmed down?

REP. EARL BLUMENAUER: Not necessarily. First of all, in terms of where we’re going with health care costs in this country, Medicare costs are out of control — it’s the biggest single threat to fiscal stability in the future — and individuals are seeing the health care costs for their companies, their individuals, skyrocketing. So if we do nothing, we’re in really big trouble. Additionally, there are elements in this bill that in the long term are actually going to reduce cost. The CBO is very rigorous in terms of how they analyze that, but you look at what we’re doing. I think it’s going to make a big difference, and I think the American people want some progress on this front.

CELESTE HEADLEE: We also heard from the Congressional Budget Office that only about 2% of the population would use the public option. Should that change support for this public option? Does that change the argument for including it?

REP. EARL BLUMENAUER: I think it is, in many parts of the country, having at least the choice of a public option is going to inject an element of competition into the process. In half the states, one company has 50% of the market or more. At least having the choice for a public option is going to inject a little bit of competitive tension. It is part, it’s not the over-arching solution, but I think it’s part of a comprehensive approach that will make a difference.

CELESTE HEADLEE: Okay, you proposed a provision into the health care bill that ended up … you’re laughing already … that ended up causing a lot of controversy.

(Tape montage of aggrieved yelling about “death panels”)

JOHN HOCKENBERRY: I guess everybody got your message there. (chuckles)

CELESTE HEADLEE: Earl Blumenauer, you were proposing a vicious assault on elderly people. You proposed what ended up being called “death panels,” but it was really counseling sessions on end of life care.

REP. EARL BLUMENAUER: We are dealing with a situation that for many people today, there is a default option that sometimes is very aggressive treatment, that may or may not be what people want. What I had proposed and actually had unanimous support on our Ways and Means Committee, was paying physicians to counsel people who wanted it — and it would be their own physician — in terms of what they could expect in end-of-life situations for individuals and their families. It is benign, it is important, every rational observer agrees this is something we should be doing. We wouldn’t have had that bizarre Terry Schiavo spectacle, for instance, if they had had that sort of conversation…

JOHN HOCKENBERRY: But do you support the government being part of that counselling?

REP. EARL BLUMENAUER: All we’re doing here is have the government pay for you to choose your health professional. The government right now will pay to hook you up on any machine, give you tests, probes, tubes… it wouldn’t pay a few dollars for a physician to sit down and talk to people for half an hour? That’s ludicrous.

JOHN HOCKENBERRY: Can I ask you a question about competition?


JOHN HOCKENBERRY: You said that if there is a public option in this bill, it would inject competition into the marketplace, that would perhaps reduce costs. If that’s true, how come the presence of Medicare and Medicaid, the huge public option and the huge intervention that government has made into health care, hasn’t produced cost savings? It’s rising as steeply as it ever has.

REP. EARL BLUMENAUER: Part of the difference here is that Medicare is very structured in terms of payment reimbursement. That’s not to say that it hasn’t had an effect in some communities. I think in fact it does, in terms of providing choice, in terms of providing volume. This would be something that would be negotiated on an individual basis, and would be one more element.

CELESTE HEADLEE: One of the things that’s most recognizable to you, perhaps to people who are not familiar with the congressional delegation from Oregon, is the fact that you bike to work on Capitol Hill. You’ve got a bright green “Bike” pin. I’m wondering, one of the things that’s been stalled in Congress is the transportation bill. Are we ever going to get some movement on this? You’ve said a lot about how the transportation in Portland — the light rail, and the street cars — work very well. How do we get the transportation bill out of committee?

REP. EARL BLUMENAUER: Part of the problem is that we don’t have a funding mechanism in place. Right now, we can only finance about $230 billion for the next six years. If we just do what we’re doing now, it’ll cost more than $300 billion, and it’s nowhere near what we need to have going forward. I listened to your segment about the economic stimulus. The most important economic stimulus, providing family wage jobs and improving the environment and productivity around the country would be to fund that in a robust fashion. We’re working hard to provide the funding mechanisms to break that bill loose.

CELESTE HEADLEE: Would you vote for a second stimulus package?

REP. EARL BLUMENAUER: I would, personally, but I don’t think we need to do that. If we adequately fund infrastructure for transportation, for water, for Superfund cleanup, I think that’s the best economic stimulus we can do going forward.

JOHN HOCKENBERRY: I’ve got Clincher tires on my wheelchair; do you have a double-stroke bicycle pump with you? (chuckles) I might need to fill my … you don’t?

CELESTE HEADLEE: He didn’t bike in!

JOHN HOCKENBERRY: We nailed you!


CELESTE HEADLEE: Earl Blumenauer, Democrat representiving Oregon’s 3rd District, which includes Portland, thanks so much for being with us.

REP. EARL BLUMENAUER: Cheap shot, John. (laughs)


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