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Context of 'August 27, 2009: RNC Chairman Tries to Support Medicare and Attack Government-Run Health Care in Same Interview'

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Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele gives a very direct answer when asked if President Obama’s health care proposal constitutes socialism. During a presentation at the National Press Club, Steele is asked, “Does President Obama’s health care plan represent socialism?” He replies: “Yes. Next question.” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow notes that Steele is “very sure that reforming health care is socialism even if he’s not actually all that sure what health care policy is,” and plays a video clip of Steele saying at a recent press conference: “I don’t do policy. I’m not—I’m not a legislator.” Steele acknowledges that Republicans made similar assessments of Medicare when it was proposed in 1965, and says: “I think that there’s a legitimate debate there about the impact that Medicare and Medicaid are having on the overall fabric of our economy. I think, though, in this case, unlike 1965, the level of spending, the level of government control and intrusion is far greater and much more expansive than anything we’ve ever seen.… So I think that what we’re talking about here is something far beyond anything we’ve seen in 1965 or since 1965. This is unprecedented government intrusion into the private sector, period. And you can sweeten that any way you want, but it still tastes bitter. And I think the American people know that.” According to Steele, Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and other Democrats are part of a “cabal” that wants to implement government-run health care. “Obama-Pelosi want to start building a colossal, closed health care system where Washington decides. Republicans want and support an open health care system where patients and doctors make the decisions,” he says. Adding Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) into his statement, Steele continues: “Many Democrats outside of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid-Waxman cabal know that voters won’t stand for these kinds of foolish prescriptions for our health care. We do too. That’s why Republicans will stop at nothing to remind voters about the risky experimentation going on in Washington.” Obama and Congressional Democrats are moving too fast to try to enact health care reform, Steele says. “So slow down, Mr. President. We can’t afford to get health care wrong. Your experiment proposes too much, too soon, too fast. Your experiment with our health care could change everything we like about our health care, and our economy as well.” When asked why Republicans are not advancing their own health care proposals, Steele responds: “Now, you know, the Republicans can get up tomorrow and introduce its own bill, but you and I know how Washington works. The bill that matters is the one that the leadership puts in place. The Democrats have the leadership.” [Wall Street Journal, 7/20/2009; Associated Press, 7/20/2009; MSNBC, 7/27/2009]

Entity Tags: Michael Steele, Harry Reid, Barack Obama, Henry A. Waxman, Medicare, Rachel Maddow, Medicaid, Nancy Pelosi, Republican National Committee

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

In an interview with NPR, Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), finds it difficult to both support Medicare and attack government-run health care. Steele is interviewed by Steve Inskeep, and tells him that government-run health care is never a good option, but simultaneously demands that health care reformers protect Medicare and retain its funding.
Says Democrats Want to Cut Medicare, Then Advocates Cutting Medicare - Steele calls Medicare “a valuable program” that is “the last line of opportunity” for elderly Americans to receive health care. He accuses Democrats of wanting to “raid” the program to fund health care reform, and says accusations that he wants to cut Medicare spending is “a wonderful interpretation by the left” that he wants to reduce such funding. However, in response to the next question, Steele says he supports cutting Medicare spending; Inskeep asks, “[Y]ou would be in favor of certain Medicare cuts?” and Steele says: “Absolutely. You want to maximize the efficiencies of the program. I mean, anyone who’s in the program would want you to do that, and certainly those who manage it want you to that.”
Protecting and Attacking Medicare Simultaneously - Inskeep pins Steele down on the dichotomy by noting that he has previously written about the need to protect Medicare while attacking the idea of President Obama’s “plan for a government-run health care system.” Inskeep observes, “You’re aware that Medicare is a government-run health care program,” and Steele retorts: “Yeah, look how it’s run. And that’s my point. Take Medicare and make it writ large across the country, because here we’re now—how many times have we been to the precipice of bankruptcy for a government-run health care program?” In the following exchange, Steele, according to Think Progress reporter Amanda Terkel, “tie[s] himself into knots”:
bullet Inskeep: “It sounds like you don’t like Medicare very much at all.”
bullet Steele: “No, I’m not saying that. No, Medicare…”
bullet Inskeep: “… But you write in this [Washington Post] op-ed that you want to protect Medicare because it’s politically popular. People like Medicare.”
bullet Steele: “No, no, no, no, no. Please, don’t…”
bullet Inskeep: “That’s why you’re writing to protect Medicare.”
bullet Steele: “Well, people may like Medicare, and liking a program and having it run efficiently is sometimes two different things. And the reality of it is simply this: I’m not saying I like or dislike Medicare.… My only point is that, okay, Medicare is what it is. It’s not going anywhere. So let’s focus on fixing it so that we don’t every three, five, 10 years have discussions about bankruptcy and running out of money.”
'You're Doing a Wonderful Little Dance' - Inskeep continues to drill into Steele’s support for Medicare and his simultaneous opposition to government-run health care, leading Steele to note, “I want to protect something that’s already in place and make it run better and run efficiently for the senior citizens that are in that system does not mean that I want to automatically support, you know, nationalizing or creating a similar system for everybody else in the country who currently isn’t on Medicare.” When Steele says the government could regulate the private industry to make sure that private insurers don’t make decisions for citizens’ health care based on profit, Inskeep asks: “Wait a minute, wait, wait. You would trust the government to look into that?” After a brief, spluttering exchange, Steele says, “I’m talking about those who—well, who regulates the insurance markets?” Inskeep notes, “That would be the government, I believe.” Steele then accuses Inskeep of trying to manipulate the conversation: “Well, and so it—wait a minute, hold up. You know, you’re doing a wonderful little dance here and you’re trying to be cute, but the reality of this is very simple. I’m not saying the government doesn’t have a role to play. I’ve never said that. The government does have a role to play. The government has a very limited role to play.”
Insists that 'No One's Trying to Scare' Americans about Reform - Towards the end of the interview, Inskeep asks whether it is difficult to explain health care to Americans in a way that “doesn’t just kind of scare people with soundbites.” Steele replies: “No one’s trying to scare people with soundbites. I have not done that, and I don’t know any leaders in the House and the Senate that have done that.” [National Public Radio, 8/27/2009; Think Progress, 8/27/2009] Steele has called the Democrats’ health care reform plan “socialism” and accused Congressional Democrats of being in a “cabal” to enact government-controlled health care over the objections of the American populace (see July 20, 2009). And his RNC has sent out a survey suggesting that the Democrats’ reform proposal would discriminate against Republicans (see August 27, 2009).

Entity Tags: Steve Inskeep, Michael Steele, Medicare, Republican National Committee

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), speaks to an audience of around 150 at Howard University in Washington. Steele’s speech is part of his outreach to historically African-American colleges and universities. Unfortunately for his outreach program, the first few rows in the auditorium are reserved for local Young Republicans; all of the attendees from that organization are white. Steele’s dialogue has few moments for the audience to contribute, as he delivers a long speech about providing for your own future, with all questions submitted in writing while he speaks. However, the dynamic changes when 23-year-old Amanda Duzak, a Towson University graduate, stands up against the rules of engagement and speaks out of turn. Steele had finished criticizing the idea of the “public option,” the proposed government-run alternative to private health insurance. Duzak says: “My mother died of cancer six months ago because she could only afford three of her six prescription chemotherapy medications. There are 50 million people in this country who could end up like my mom, suffering or dying because they do not have adequate health care (see September 17, 2009). Everyone in this room and everyone in this country should have access to good health care.” Duzak receives a solid round of applause, and Steele answers her. After saying he believes in mature, honest discussion, he says, “People are coming to these town meetings and they’re like [he then shakes].” Gesturing directly at Duzak, he adds: “It makes for great TV. You’ll probably make it tonight, enjoy it.” Steele then turns his back on Duzak as the crowd continues to applaud her. [Think Progress, 9/2/2009; Huffington Post, 9/2/2009; Washington Independent, 9/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Michael Steele, Republican National Committee, Amanda Duzak

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

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