THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES DONNA SHALALA, SECRETARY OF COMMERCE RON BROWN, AND SECRETARY OF LABOR ROBERT REICH AT PRESS STAKE OUT
10:26 A.M. EDT
SECRETARY SHALALA: The President called the Cabinet to order today and issued a call to action. He told us that this is it -- we're in the final four, it's time to mobilize every bit of energy that we have in this administration to take the final steps to health care reform.
We are in the critical period, and the message needs to go out to every American that this is the opportunity to make certain that every working American has private health insurance that can never be taken away.
And I can't tell you the enthusiasm of the Cabinet to take these final steps. Two of my colleagues are with me today, and I'd like to call on them to make comments.
Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown.
SECRETARY BROWN: This is a critical time -- I believe a critical time in American history. The American people are demanding a health care delivery system that works for every American.
The President has called from the very beginning for private health insurance that can never be taken away. It can't be taken away if you lose your job; it can't be taken away if you change jobs; it can't be taken away if you get sick; it can't be taken away when you get old. Those sound like pretty good, firm American principles. Those principles are embodied in the legislation before the House and the Senate now.
We think it is terribly important that we overcome the disinformation campaign that has been waged. Opponents of the plan have been spending millions of dollars to influence the American people and the Congress. The President has decided to take the message, to take the truth directly to the American people. And that's why for the next several evenings at 7:50 p.m., he will be on CNN talking about health care; talking about how important it is to the American people; talking about the fact that yes, we've got the best doctors, the best medical professionals, the best hospitals, the best medical technology in the world, but we've got a health care delivery system that is not working -- 38 million Americans have no health insurance whatsoever; another 22 million are underinsured. In order to make sure that we can control costs so that we can be a competitive nation in the 21st century, we've got to get everyone into the system.
That's why we need universal health care; that's why we need it now. That's what the President remains committed to, and that's the action that the Congress must take before they leave Washington next fall. Thank you very much.
SECRETARY SHALALA: Secretary of Labor Bob Reich.
SECRETARY REICH: Over the next few weeks, the President and the Cabinet are going to be fighting for average working Americans. What's at stake here is the health care of average working Americans. Universal health care is not just a slogan; universal health care is about people who will be secure in knowing that they have health care that cannot be taken away.
If they have a loss of job, if they simply have a major problem in their family, if they have a major health problem, they should not have to worry about that health care problem. And the state of the economy is at stake, not just the stake of individuals.
A lot of people said to the President originally last year that the economic plan was not going to work. Remember that? Remember the skeptics who said that if you raise taxes on the people at the very top, you're going to bring the economy down? Well, we didn't bring the economy down. In fact, we have almost four million new jobs.
There were skeptics who said you couldn't cut spending, in fact, the spending cuts we had weren't real. Well, we're on the verge of having the third year in a row of cuts in the deficit. Not since Harry Truman have you had this much deficit cutting. And a lot of people now just want to say no with regard to universal health care. No, no, no -- that's what our opponents have for us.
Well, the American people have registered again and again that they are fed up with no; they want yes, they want to go forward. And the President and the members of the Cabinet are going to fight -- fight hard -- for average working Americans to make sure that here again, beyond the President's economic program, beyond getting more jobs, beyond cutting the deficit, we are going to have a health plan that guarantees every American health coverage that cannot be taken away. Thank you.
Q Secretary Reich, last year in getting the economic plan through, you didn't get one Republican vote -- it was a one-vote Democratic majority in the Senate and the House. And at that time, the President said he never wanted to have to go through that kind of partisan battle again. Are you ready now to go for the one-vote Democratic majority in order to get health care through the Senate and the House?
SECRETARY REICH: The President this morning said that he wants to reach out to Republicans. He has continued to reach out to Republicans, he wants to bring them in, he wants to make this bipartisan. But every time he reaches out, a lot of Republicans simply scamper away.
Well, the President is going to be drawing the line. If the Republicans want to come on, if they want to join the caravan for universal health care, fine. There are some Republicans that are already willing to join on. This should not be a partisan issue, but if Republicans want to make it a partisan issue, they have to live with that.
Q Mr. Secretary, what is the President asking you to do that's new? You all have been -- members of the Cabinet have been out. Dee Dee Myers was talking yesterday about editorial boards, radio interviews, events of various sorts. What now?
SECRETARY REICH: We are going to do even more than we have been doing in the past. All of us have responsibilities.
SECRETARY SHALALA: This is really a full-court press for all of us, and all of us have our responsibilities.
Q What's that mean?
SECRETARY SHALALA: So it's more editorial boards, it's more talking to groups, it's making the message very clear that this is the final push for health care reform; that we are literally steps away from achieving this historic victory. We want Republicans to come along with us, but we're running very fast.
Q Are you fanning out all over the country or are you just working in Washington?
SECRETARY SHALALA: We'll be out around the country. We'll be here talking to groups as they come in. We'll be every place we need to be to make this final push.
SECRETARY REICH: This is a team effort. Every member of the Cabinet, notwithstanding all our other responsibilities, is going to be devoting substantial time, even more time than before, to making this a reality.
Q Is this a partisan effort that you're doing -- attempting to reach Republicans?
SECRETARY SHALALA: This is a partisan effort for health care reform. We are partisan about a private health insurance system for every American.
Q Secretary Reich, speaking about team efforts, what can your department do about the baseball strike threat? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY REICH: I'm not going to talk about the baseball strike right now. I'll talk about that some other time. In fact, right now the most important issue --
Q Mr. Secretary, the President spoke about it last night. So I'm just bringing it up in that context.
SECRETARY REICH: The most important issue is health care. Baseball is important, but health care is a matter of life and death.
Q Mr. Secretary, I don't think it's unfair to ask that.
Q This is a press stake out.
SECRETARY REICH: Let me just say that we will do everything we possibly can to get the players and the owners to the bargaining table. The President has indicated that; I have indicated that. They have to want to go to the bargaining table. They've got to indicate that they, in fact, are willing to come up with some resolution of the conflict. We're not going to insinuate ourselves into that conflict.
Americans are concerned about baseball. But they are also, believe me, concerned about losing their health care coverage.
Q Last night the President was talking about the market reform approach and saying how that wouldn't work and everybody would start dropping out -- the young and healthy would start dropping out because the sick people would be the ones that would be consuming and prices would go up. How is that different from the Mitchell approach, which relies on market reforms and doesn't have a mandate until 2002? How is that different?
SECRETARY SHALALA: No, in fact, the point the President was making was that to get cost controls, there are a couple of different mechanisms used. In some cases, as we suggested, you might slow down the increase by having some caps on premiums. In other cases, we have always committed ourselves to using the market competition among plans to hold down costs.
The President believes in that approach. If he didn't, we would have gone for single-payer, for a government-run health care system. Instead, we strongly recommended a market approach and that the majority of Americans be in plans in which they have choices and in which there is competition among the plans to have both price and quality.
Q But he said under the market approach, you're going to have even more people uninsured and prices going up. And he also says that the Mitchell approach relies on the market in the beginning. So how is it different from a pure market approach versus Mitchell? What is the difference?
SECRETARY SHALALA: Both the Mitchell plan, the President's original plan, the Gephardt plan, all use elements of a market approach and take care of those who are very poor through government-sponsored programs. But even there, we buy ourselves into individual private plans.
We would like to move large numbers of Americans into more private plans, whether they're in Medicare or they're in Medicaid, because we believe the way to hold down prices -- the growth of health care costs in this country -- is to have competition among plans.
SECRETARY BROWN: Let me just speak to this issue of what we're doing differently. We are in the homestretch here. It seems absolutely clear that this is doable. We can get health care reform and we can get it this year.
The President indicated to all of us in the Cabinet his absolute resolve this morning, that we are pulling out all stops to make sure that the Congress does the right thing. It must do the right thing.
We have been bombarded -- the American public has been bombarded with misinformation and disinformation about what health reform contains. The fact is that the legislation before the House and the Senate is a giant step forward. It contains the essence of the President's original proposals. That's why he has indicated to the American people -- and he did so very eloquently and effectively last night -- that he can support that legislation.
We are now giving a final push. Let me say one word about the issue of cost containment because that is also important if we are going to be a competitive nation in the 21st century. As Secretary of Commerce, naturally I have an interest in us being a competitive nation. We are spending 14 percent of our gross domestic product on health care when our international competitors are spending 5, 6, 7 percent.
We cannot be a competitive nation in the 21st century if we allow these costs to continue to spiral. One reason they're spiraling is because there are so many Americans who are not insured. When you're not insured you don't get annual checkups, you don't take preventive care, you don't get your children immunizations and, therefore, you get only medical care when you are very sick when it is very expensive to get. And you get it in the emergency rooms of hospitals -- the least effective, least efficient and most expensive way to get health care.
You've got to get everybody in the system. That's why we're fighting for universal coverage. Getting everybody in the system is a way to contain costs, to keep us a competitive nation and to deliver quality health care to all the American people.
Q What about the criticism from Senators Dole and Gramm that the Mitchell bill creates many new bureaucracies, it has 17 new taxes, and that they won't support it? Is there any likelihood, any realistic chance that one Republican, or even perhaps two Republicans in the Senate will support the Mitchell bill?
SECRETARY SHALALA: Oh, I think that there is when they finally sit down and look at it very carefully. It does not create great new bureaucracies. It has a couple of committees that trigger in after 90 percent -- 95 percent to tell us how we get to the next percentages. And it certainly does not -- it is very streamlined as far as I could tell. And the President has indicated that they reduce the amount of bureaucracy that's necessary for a new health care plan.
Q What about the 17 new taxes they allege are in the bill?
SECRETARY SHALALA: There are not 17 new taxes. There is a cigarette tax, which has been consistently in the bill. There is a new system for slowing down the growth of the fanciest health care plans by recapturing through taxes some of those plans that are growing very fast, which are very rich plans. But there are not a lot of taxes in that bill. In fact, it is a very tight bill.
SECRETARY REICH: The President this morning said that both the Gephardt and the Mitchell bills are improvements over his original bill. They are streamlined, less bureaucracy, less rigidity, more choice. They're enormous improvements. And they get us to universal health care.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END10:46 A.M. EDT