Last Fourth of July, South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint published Saving Freedom: We Can Stop America's Slide into Socialism. Senator DeMint (ranked by National Journal as the Senate’s most conservative member), has been making headlines as one of President Obama's most vocal critics on everything from the economy, health care reform to Cash for Clunkers. He joins The Takeaway with his take on how to correct the country's path.
"Right now we don’t allow insurance companies to compete state to state, so a few insurance companies can essentially monopolize the business in each state. If we created a national market for health care with hundreds of companies competing for our business the price would go down and the variety of products would go up."
—Senator Jim DeMint on health care reform
For more from Senator DeMint, watch his speech on the Senate floor against President Obama's health care plan:
JOHN HOCKENBERRY for The Takeaway: Good morning everyone. John Hockenberry here, with Amy Holmes. And we begin with the Republican Senator from South Carolina, Jim DeMint. He’s the author of Saving Freedom: We Can Stop America's Slide into Socialism. He joins us on the line from Washington, D.C. Senator, Good morning.
SENATOR JIM DEMINT: Good morning, John and Amy. Thanks for having me with ya!
JOHN HOCKENBERRY: Absolutely. Well, let’s begin with a comment that President Obama made a little while ago, something that’s familiar to you. He said this on July 20th.
“Just the other day, one Republican Senator said, and I’m quoting him now, ‘If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.’ ”
—President Obama on Senator Jim DeMint
JOHN HOCKENBERRY: Senator Jim DeMint, listening to some of the loud voices at these town meetings around the United States, as lawmakers attempt to learn what their constituents think about healthcare, is it “Waterloo” we’re hearing, or the sound of democracy?
SENATOR JIM DEMINT: Well, I’m really proud of Americans who are willing to stand up and voice their opinion. Of course, the President has been very critical of them, too, and in effect demeaned them as "right wingers." But, I’ve talked to a lot of these people, and a lot of them who’ve come out for the tea parties, and are protesting at these town halls--I mean, they do it for Republicans at Republican town halls, too—is they’re not necessarily partisan at all. And I’ve talked to a lot of Democrats. People are more alarmed and concerned than I’ve ever seen them, and they see this rampage towards this. More spending and debt, the government takeovers are things we’ve never seen in our country, and now, as they talk about taking over health care, people feel as I do: if we can’t stop this government takeover, then they’re gonna continue with the cap and trade idea (which is an electricity and energy tax) and go on to other big agenda items.
JOHN HOCKENBERRY: Alright, well, let’s get back to health care then for a moment. Is it your position that nothing should change in health care in America?
SENATOR JIM DEMINT: Oh no, quite the opposite. I worked in health care for years before I came to Congress, and I’ve probably introduced more health reform legislation than anyone who’s in the Senate right now. But what we need to do is fix what’s broken. And we can do that with several things. Such as, just give fair tax treatment to people who don’t get health insurance at work. That would mean every family in America would get $5,000 to buy their own health insurance.
JOHN HOCKENBERRY: Well, every working family in America, not every family.
SENATOR JIM DEMINT: Every family, even if you’re unemployed. I mean this would be a fairness to every American. Because if you get health insurance at your work now, you get an equivalent benefit of about $5,000 through various tax breaks. The other thing we could do, which makes so much sense in the context of what the Democrats have been talking about, is to open up inter-state competition between insurance companies. Right now, we don’t allow insurance companies to compete state-to-state. So, a few insurance companies can essentially monopolize the business in each state. If we created a national market for health care with hundreds of companies competing for our business, the price would go down, and the variety of products would go up.
JOHN HOCKENBERRY: Alright, a market-based solution, and the offer of changing the tax code to benefit all Americans. Let’s talk about the cost for a moment. It seems to be that that’s what the shouting is about at a lot of these town hall meetings. $1.5 trillion is roughly the cost of the Iraq war. Why is it too much to pay for something as important as health care reform?
SENATOR JIM DEMINT: Well, there’s...first of all, we know the government can’t do it well. I mean you can look at the "Cash for Clunkers" program and see that they thought it was a billion dollars for four or five months. They went through it in a month. The numbers that had been coming out of this White House, and the last one, have been far from accurate. And these programs always cost multiple times what we’re told. Once we make health care free, it’s gonna be impossible to control the cost without rationing. So people are not only concerned about the cost, they’re concerned about the government deciding what kind of treatments we can get, and what kind of treatments we can’t get. And just this whole idea of the government running more of our lives has a lot of people alarmed. A lot of people have insurance that they want to keep; they know that this plan takes money from Medicare, which it does. And so, a lot of seniors are up in arms because we’re already underfunding Medicare. But I guess the biggest thing is…
JOHN HOCKENBERRY: But just one little fact though. This isn’t a program that would make health care free. Let’s just make that clear. You said that, and that’s actually not what the Democrats are looking at under any plan.
SENATOR JIM DEMINT: Well, they want a single-payer, government-controlled health care system.
JOHN HOCKENBERRY: Some Democrats do…
SENATOR JIM DEMINT: Well, the President’s on record as saying that, Charlie Rangel, Barney Frank. The people who are leading this legislation are on record saying that that’s where they want to take us.
JOHN HOCKENBERRY: Alright, I want to get Amy Holmes in here because otherwise I’ll be accused of monopolizing the conversation. Like, you know, Medicare is monopolizing health care here.
SENATOR JIM DEMINT: OK.
AMY HOLMES: Senator DeMint, thanks for being here. Over the weekend, it was reported that Senator Hatch said that the plan that was being hammered out between the gang of six in the Senate (being led by Max Baucus), that that plan was “out of this world,” and he didn’t mean in a good way. He meant from outer space. And he thought that Senator Grassley, there’s just no way he can sign onto it. Do you anticipate that President Obama is going to be passing this on a party line vote, with that procedure that only requires 51 votes?
SENATOR JIM DEMINT: Well, I hope not. If they change the rules--I mean the Senate is supposed to have 60 votes to pass major legislation--if they change the rules and go around it, I think Americans will even be more angry, but the Republicans who have been negotiating have been negotiating in good faith. But what we’re finding is the only compromise that the Democrats are interested in is what kind of government plan we will have.
AMY HOLMES: So, you don’t see Republican votes for this?
SENATOR JIM DEMINT: No, not a government plan. But I see a lot of Republican votes for real reform that reforms the insurance business so that they’re more competitive…
JOHN HOCKENBERRY: Right, but let’s nail down that question of Amy’s. You are opposed to any public option in health care reform?
SENATOR JIM DEMINT: Any expansion of government control of health care, because that is the thing that’s hurting health care more than anything else right now. The public plans now of Medicare and Medicaid and Tricare and others are trillions of dollars in debt. They’re making private insurance cost a third more than it should because of all the cost shifting. And if we expand that concept even more, we’re gonna run all the private insurers out of business.
JOHN HOCKENBERRY: Why not just roll back Medicare, and stop the slide into socialism altogether?
SENATOR JIM DEMINT: No, well, we’ve made a promise to people, that people have paid for. This isn’t charity. I’m putting into Medicare and you are, too. We need to keep that promise. But we need to make available to every American a health insurance policy that they can afford and own and keep. And we can do that, and we’ve seen it in various ways as we’ve had more competition of health insurance companies in some parts of the country. E-health insurance that are offering plans online…
AMY HOLMES: Senator DeMint? I’m sorry to interrupt. I just wanna ask one more question.
JOHN HOCKENBERRY: Very quickly.
AMY HOLMES: Senate Republicans, are we going to see a plan from them? After the recess? And if so, when?
SENATOR JIM DEMINT: There are several plans that have been introduced, and one of them is mine, the Health Care Freedom Act. And it gives people the $5000 voucher, which is more than the average cost of a family plan.
JOHN HOCKENBERRY: Alright, Republican alternatives to health care reform. Jim DeMint is a Republican Senator from South Carolina talking about alternatives. He’s also the author of Saving Freedom: We Can Stop America's Slide into Socialism. Senator, thank you so much.
SENATOR JIM DEMINT: Thank you, John, and Amy, thanks a lot.