President Barack Obama’s proposed healthcare plan is the “first step in destroying the best healthcare system the world has ever known,” Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”
“When the government is involved more and more in the details,” Shelby warned, “and you start the one-pay deal and you got the government competing with private enterprise with all the incentives the government has and the power, they can destroy the marketplace for healthcare, and it will be a mistake and the American people better be careful in what they want.”
Shelby was responding to the Wallace question: “The president wants a public health option. Despite his opposition during the campaign, he now says that he’s willing to consider mandates on individuals to get health insurance, on employers to pay for health insurance, as long as there’s a hardship waiver. Senator Shelby, what’s wrong with that?”
Shelby’ immediate response was: “Two things. One, we don’t know how much it’s going to cost and who’s going to pay for it.”
The Wallace-Shelby exchange was part of a larger discussion on the program that featured not only healthcare reform but the bankruptcy of General Motors Corporation and the federal government taking a 60 percent ownership stake – and just how much government intervention is too much.
In addition to Shelby, participating in the panel, among others, was presidential economic adviser Austan Goolsbee and investment banker Fred Malek.
Goolsbee came under fire when Wallace asked him whether the public health insurance plan drives out all the private health insurers and how you pay for it. To illustrate, the moderator quickly switched to a tape of candidate Obama attacking John McCain for the idea of taxing healthcare benefits.
On the tape, the narrator charges: “McCain would make you pay income tax on your health insurance benefits, taxing health benefits for the first time ever….”
Wallace then noted that the president was telling Democratic senators he’s willing to consider the idea of either taxing people who make a certain amount of money or taxing healthcare plans that are of a certain value. “Isn’t that a complete 180-degree policy flip?”
Goolsbee rejoined: “Well, let me say two things about that. Number one, that -- what the healthcare exclusion, as they call it -- that was not in the president’s plan.
“Now, the president has committed that he’s going to work with Congress, and -- so they have put forward a whole series of ideas that he’s willing to look at to do an achievable healthcare cost reduction and healthcare expansion for people who are uninsured,” he added.
“But that’s not the president’s plan, so I think it’s a little unfair to attribute to the president things that he did not put forward.”
The presidential adviser explained: “He’s willing to look at all sorts of ideas. That is not in his plan. It is not the president’s plan that he put forward. The second is in the campaign, the McCain proposal, as you describe in that ad, moved from are the companies going to be paying taxes on the insurance to then shifting to let’s have the individuals pay tax on their health insurance.
“And the president -- I don’t think it’s a secret that the president has been and will remain highly concerned about how ordinary Americans are able to foot the bills on their -- foot their tax bills.
“That’s why they put in a tax cut for 95 percent of workers in the recovery package. So he’s clearly going to be mindful about that in healthcare,” Goolsbee concluded.
Wallace then turned to Malek, asking for his thoughts about the benefits versus the dangers of a public health insurance component as one of the choices, and about the apparent Presidential flip-flop on the idea of taxing benefits.
Malek noted that there were in his opinion two major problems – timing and cost.
“We should be focusing like a laser on this economic recovery in creating jobs,” Malek said. “This healthcare bill does not do that. We should not be focusing on that. Plus, the healthcare bill, by their own estimates, adds over a trillion dollars of costs over the next 10 years.
“At a time when we are mounting deficits and mounting debt that’s greater than the total debt accumulated in the history of our country, this could only lead to inflation. It’s going to have a bad ending. And we should put this off for a couple of years until the economy gets stabilized,” Malek concluded.
On the broader economic picture, Wallace put Goolsbee on the spot again, asking him about the latest jobs numbers -- 9.4 percent unemployment, 345,000 more layoffs in May.
“A couple months ago, the White House projected unemployment was going to top out in September at no more than 8 percent. Are we now headed for double-digit unemployment, more than 10 percent?” Wallace asked.
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