Steele Confused, Overwhelmed By NPR Interview: ‘Now Wait A Minute. Hold up. … You’re Trying To Be Cute.’

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"Steele Confused, Overwhelmed By NPR Interview: ‘Now Wait A Minute. Hold up. … You’re Trying To Be Cute.’"

In an interview with Michael Steele, NPR’s Steve Inskeep repeatedly asked the RNC chairman to explain why Republicans keep defending Medicare at the same time they claim that the government is incompetent at running anything.

Steele grew frustrated with the questioning, telling Inskeep to stop being “cute” and “doing a wonderful little dance.” But even while admitting that people “like Medicare” and it’s “a valuable program” that’s “the last line of opportunity to receive health care for a lot of our seniors,” he continued to attack it as “bloated” and inefficient. “I’m not saying I like or dislike Medicare,” an exasperated Steele finally said. “It is what it is.”

At one point, Steele tied himself into knots trying to explain his view on the proper role of government after saying that “there are issues in the insurance market that we can regulate a little bit better”:

INSKEEP: Wait, wait — You would trust the government to look into that?

STEELE: No, I’m talking about the private — I’m talking about citizens. I’m talking about — (CROSSTALK)

INSKEEP: Who is it you — You said it is something that should be looked into. Who is it that you think should look into that?

STEELE: Well, who regulates the insurance markets?

INSKEEP: That would be the government, I believe.

STEELE: Well, and so what. Now wait a minute. Hold up. 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; it has a very limited role to play.

INSKEEP: Mr. Chairman, I respect that you think I’m doing a dance here. I just want you to know that as a citizen, I’m a little confused by the positions you take because you’re giving me a very nice nuanced position here —

STEELE: It’s not nice and nuanced. I’m being very clear.

Steele also had to admit that sometimes private insurers do get “between the doctor and the patient,” but he quickly added that if the government were involved, it would be “10 times worse.” Listen here:

Toward the end of the interview, Inskeep also asked Steele whether it was “challenging” to explain the health care situation to Americans in a way that “doesn’t just kind of scare people with soundbites.” Steele insisted, “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.” (Of course, many Republicans in Congress have been using these soundbites, and Steele himself has endorsed them.)

Steele has been all over the map in recent weeks, trying to square the GOP’s dogmatic positions with the realities of health care in America. He has fear-mongered about death panels, and then said that no one should be using such soundbites. He has criticized cost-cutting savings to Medicare, then said that such measures may be warranted. In today’s interview, all those positions finally caught up with him.

Transcript:

STEELE: What makes it a valuable program is it’s the last line of opportunity to receive health care for a lot of our seniors, and it has been now since the 1960s. The problem, as we all know, is the system has been raided over the years from time to time, it’s become bloated, and in some cases, efficiencies have not been maxed out. Therefore it’s running into problems where, you know, every few years we’re having stories about Medicare falling apart, and we’ve already projected it’s going to —

INSKEEP: It’s going to run out of money.

STEELE: Exactly.

INSKEEP: But you’re coming here reducing the spending for Medicare, restraining Medicare.

STEELE: No, no, no. That’s not coming out against reducing the spending for Medicare. That’s a wonderful interpretation by the left, but what I was saying was, “Don’t go raiding the program without some sense of what we’re taking from the program, the impact it’s going to have on the senior citizens out there.” You know, raiding a program that’s already bankrupt to pay for another program that we can’t afford is not good public policy.

INSKEEP: So you would be in favor of certain cuts?

STEELE: 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 do that.

INSKEEP: Here’s another thing I’m trying to figure out. Within a couple of paragraphs of writing, “We need to protect Medicare,” you write that you oppose President Obama’s “plan for a government-run health care system.” Now you’re a veteran public policy official. You’re aware that Medicare is a government-run health care program.

STEELE: Yeah, and look how it’s run! And that’s my point. Take Medicare and make it writ-large across the country, because how many times have we been at the precipice of bankruptcy for a government-run health care program?

INSKEEP: It sounds like you don’t like Medicare very much at all —

STEELE: No, I’m not saying that all —

INSKEEP: But you write in this op-ed that you want to protect Medicare because it’s politically popular. People like Medicare; that’s why you’re writing to protect Medicare.

STEELE: No, no, no. People may like Medicare, and liking a program and having it run efficiently are sometimes two different things. The reality of it is simply this: I’m not saying I like or dislike Medicare. It is what it is. It is a program that has been around for over 40 years, and in those 40 years, it has not been run efficiently or well enough to sustain itself. You have Medicare, you have Amtrak, the post office — all these government-run agencies that try to inject themselves into private markets typically don’t do too well. My only point is 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 of bankruptcy and running out of money.

INSKEEP: I’m still having a little trouble with the notion that you’re going to write to protect Medicare, you’re going to preserve this program, that you’re going to make sure that this government-run health care program stays solvent in the long-term —

STEELE: Let’s get it to run right.

INSKEEP: — and yet you’re opposing “government-run health care.”

STEELE: Wait a minute. Just because, you know, I want to protect something that’s already in place and make it better and run efficiently for the senior citizens that are in that system doesn’t mean that I want to automatically support nationalizing or creating a similar system for everyone else in the country who isn’t already in Medicare.

INSKEEP: Let me ask another question here because you warn that some of the proposals out there would “create government boards that would decide what treatments would or would not be funded.” You want that treatment to be between the doctor and the patient. When a private insurance company pays now, what is your impression of who decides what that private insurance company is going to cover? Is that purely between the doctor and the patient now?

STEELE: Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. It depends on the type of treatment and the medicines that are at stake, and I’ve had that same example experienced my own self, where I’ve needed a certain type of medication and the insurance company is like, “You can have, but we’ll only pay for this amount or this portion.” I don’t like that anymore than I like the government doing it.

My point is, you know, if the government is going to do it, it’s going to do it 10 times worse and it’s going to be more pronounced than the private insurers, and I think that’s a feature that we can fix right now. Sure, there are issues in the insurance market that we can regulate a little bit better and that we can control better to maximize the benefits to the consumers. That’s something that yeah, we can rightly reform and fix.

INSKEEP: Wait, wait — You would trust the government to look into that?

STEELE: No, I’m talking about the private — I’m talking about citizens. I’m talking about — (CROSSTALK)

INSKEEP: Who is it you — You said it is something that should be looked into. Who is it that you think should look into that?

STEELE: Well, who regulates the insurance markets?

INSKEEP: That would be the government, I believe.

STEELE: Well, and so what. Now wait a minute. Hold up. 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; it has a very limited role to play.

INSKEEP: Mr. Chairman, I respect that you think I’m doing a dance here. I just want you to know that as a citizen, I’m a little confused by the positions you take because you’re giving me a very nice nuanced position here —

STEELE: It’s not nice and nuanced. I’m being very clear.

INSKEEP: You’re giving me, nevertheless, a nuanced —

STEELE: What’s nuanced? I’m being very clear!

INSKEEP: What “nuanced” means is you’re not doing it exactly black and white. You recognize the government has a role to play here, but you and your party, come to the actual rhetoric, it seems more along the lines of absolutes. It’s between a patient and a doctor.

STEELE: Well, I’m sorry. I don’t accept your premise, and you have your view and you can see it as nuanced all you want, but the reality —

INSKEEP: I’m not saying nuanced is a bad thing, sir.

STEELE: I’m being very clear. I want to have an open debate. I want to put ideas out there. I want people to understand when it’s all said and done. And seriously, I’m not trying to be nuanced, I’m not trying to be cute, I’m trying to be very clear. I’m not saying the government doesn’t have a role to play here. It does. It’s managing a Medicare program. So it has a role to play.

INSKEEP: Maybe we’re getting hung up on the word “nuanced”; maybe I should say “challenging.” Do you find it challenging to get into this complicated debate and explain things to people in a way that it’s honest to the facts and still very clear —

STEELE: That’s a good point.

INSKEEP: — and doesn’t just kind of scare people with soundbites?

STEELE: Well, no. Look. 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. So yeah, it’s complicated and you want to do that.

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