THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN TELEPHONE CALL TO SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY The Oval Office
1:48 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Hello.
SENATOR KENNEDY: Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: How are you, Senator?
SENATOR KENNEDY: Well, real well, better today than any other time we've been for a long time. Your program is on track. We've got a lot of enthusiasm for it. People are excited. They know that for the first time in the history of the country we're going to get a chance to debate this. And your leadership and Mrs. Clinton's leadership has just made an extraordinary difference.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I thought you were terrific. I tell you, you and all the people that voted with you in the committee are really going to give the country a chance to have an honest debate about this now. There's been an awful lot of charges and countercharges in the air, and a lot of misinformation. But the fundamental fact is that we're now going to have a chance to decide as a nation whether we're going to give health care coverage to all of our people in the context that will enable us to bring some of the costs down and keep some of the bad things from occurring that are happening today. And I'm really elated about it.
SENATOR KENNEDY: Well, I think the people are really beginning to sort of understand that after all the posturing and statements and speeches, that we are for the first time going to have a chance to do something for families in this country. And I think that's really the good news.
The one thing that we have seen very, very clear in the last two weeks is that the politics of negativism and the politics of criticism and the naysayers may be able to get attention for the early rounds, but I just can't believe that that kind of attitude can last. I find in traveling around Massachusetts, people are asking, if you're against the program, what are you really for? And I think that the fact that you've been out there day in and day out fighting for something that's going to make a difference for families, working families, is really making a difference.
And we've had a good conversation today and last night with Chairman Moynihan and a number of the members of that committee this morning. And I know we've got a battle through there, but, quite frankly, I think that this health program of yours has come to pass.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you were there a long time before anybody else. I still remember the speech you gave in Memphis in 1978. And you convinced me we needed to get off our dime and go to work. It's just taken us 16 years to get a bill out of committee, but I'm ready to roll. (Laughter.) And the American people are deeply in your debt, and we now have a chance to do it. And I just want to assure you, I'm going to do everything I can.
I want to also say a special word of thanks to you for making the effort to reach out to Republicans and give them a chance to be part of the process. You and I know they're under enormous partisan pressure not to participate. But Senator Jeffords voted with us yesterday, and many of the Republicans offered amendments and did other things that you gave them a chance to do. And I hope this will be eventually like Social Security and Medicare, where a number of them will finally come around in the end. And I think they will, in part because you kept the door open and worked with them so carefully.
SENATOR KENNEDY: Well, just on that, on the benefit package approach on it, we had 17 to nothing; all the Republicans as well as the Democrats. And the long-term care, we are 15 to two. On the privacy provisions that are going to even fill in some of the abuses that exist today, we had virtually unanimous support. The training programs, 11 to six. The quality issues, which are so important, 13 to four. We picked up many Republicans on different provisions of it. And I think, obviously, we -- I know how you have worked to try and make sure they're going to be there during the debate on the floor. I think they will be.
THE PRESIDENT: We've just got to keep hitting it. I'm ready if you are.
SENATOR KENNEDY: Okay. Listen, it's good to -- really appreciate you. We're all looking forward to you coming back to Massachusetts sometime.
THE PRESIDENT: Me, too. (Laughter.)
SENATOR KENNEDY: Particularly Patrick. He said you had a good time up there with him the other day, too.
THE PRESIDENT: We really had a good time. And I was so pleased. He seemed to be doing very well, and he seemed to be enjoying himself immensely.
SENATOR KENNEDY: Well, it was very kind.
I talked to the First Lady this morning, as well. So she's already busy strategizing and moving along on the program.
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks.
SENATOR KENNEDY: Thanks an awful lot.
THE PRESIDENT: All right, man.
SENATOR KENNEDY: Good to talk to you.
THE PRESIDENT: Goodbye. Thank you, sir.
SENATOR KENNEDY: Thank you very much, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Bye bye.
END 1:52 P.M. EDT