POLITICO Q & A: Rep. Anthony Weiner

Congressman explains the health care debate

By David Mark
|  Monday, Dec 14, 2009  |  Updated 9:45 AM EDT
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Anthony Weiner: Why the Health Care Public Option Failed

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Anthony Weiner gives three reason the public option failed.

In the ongoing health care fight on Capitol Hill, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) has been among the most vocal proponents of a public option. He spoke with POLITICO Senior Editor David Mark about the latest developments in the health care negotiations.

What are your feelings about the Senate compromise, which would expand Medicare eligibility?

It returns to a place I think we should have started. I think one of the crucial errors we made in this whole discussion was not building on something we know and understand. We certainly know and understand Medicare. I have long thought we should build on those systems that work.

Having said that, what I don’t know about their proposal could fill a book.

Right now, we’re paying a lot for individuals and societies for the uninsured. They’re paying very high rates because they’re just the kind of people the insurance companies don’t want to cover. Broader Medicare coverage could help alleviate that.

To pay for it, there are all kinds of new regulations that they’re going to have to come up with. The Senate compromise recognizes that we have two systems operating side by side: Medicare, Medicaid, [Veterans Affairs] and the like; then there’s the private system. We’re improving both. I think there’s a little something in it for everybody.

Are you disappointed there very likely won’t be a vote on a single-payer system?

At least by adding more people to Medicare, we’re moving toward a public option. I made the decision not to offer an amendment on single payer in the House. It became pretty clear in those last moments in the House that the vote would be so close that there would be enough members for whom that vote would have been troublesome. It would have been a symbolic effort.

What does it say that, even with a 40-vote majority in the House and a Senate Democratic Caucus with 60 members, a public option isn’t politically viable?

It speaks to three things. One, big change is hard, particularly when it’s to a big part of our economy. Second, the status quo is a very powerful force in Congress. And third, we haven’t really had the full-throated advocacy on the part of the president that we have on other issues. He’s chosen to take a little bit more of a hands-off approach. I think the combination of those three things has made it difficult.

Should the president have voiced his support of a public option more forcefully?

I wish he had been more involved by now. But [this] strategy has gotten [the administration] farther down the road than with the creation of Medicare 44 years ago.

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