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MSNBC Asks Conrad: What Kind Of Commitment Do You Have To Health Care If ‘You Don’t Even Put A Number In The Budget’?

This morning, MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell questioned Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) about his decision not to commit a specific amount to the health care reserve fund in the budget. “What kind of commitment is it then, that you don’t even put a number in the budget? Are you committed to health care reform and how will you pay for it,” O’Donnell asked:

What we have provided for is a healthcare reserve fund, one that we worked out very carefully with the administration, with the committees of jurisdiction. What it provides is the full flexibility to the committees of jurisdiction to write the legislation. We did not prejudge how much it would cost. We did say whatever they come up with has to be paid for, which is exactly what the administration said. Remember, the administration was providing for a down payment. They themselves did not know how much the initial cost would be. So we took note of that. We said look, we’re going to provide flexibility to the committees as to how they design healthcare reform, but, whatever they do, is going to have to be paid for. And the administration endorsed that

Watch it:

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Conrad is arguing that by freeing the health care reserve fund from a specific dollar amount, he’s giving Congress more flexibility to fund comprehensive health care reform — so long as that investment is revenue neutral. And in fact, taking health care out of the main budget and placing it into a freestanding fund could make it easier for the investments to pay for themselves in a 10 year period. But some suspect that Conrad does not want to take responsibility for financing health care reform and may have given Republicans an opening to organize against a large investment.

Transcript:

O’DONNELL: I know — I listened to you yesterday you said, “Well we don’t exclude, we don’t include healthcare.” What kind of commitment is that then, if you can’t even put a number in the budget you put forward? Are you committed to healthcare reform, and how is it going to be paid for?

CONRAD: Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to respond, because I think people — this is complicated, and people get confused, frankly. What we have provided for is a healthcare reserve fund, one that we worked out very carefully with the administration, with the committees of jurisdiction. What it provides is the full flexibility to the committees of jurisdiction to write the legislation. We did not prejudge how much it would cost. We did say whatever they come up with has to be paid for, which is exactly what the administration said. Remember, the administration was providing for a down payment. They themselves did not know how much the initial cost would be. So we took note of that. We said look, we’re going to provide flexibility to the committees as to how they design healthcare reform, but, whatever they do, is going to have to be paid for. And the administration endorsed that

O’DONNELL: I really want to underline that and use my highlighter pen on that. How it’s paid for, because I think that’s key. You didn’t like the way the Obama administration min in its budget paid for some of its tax cuts for the middle class — with cap-and-trade — so you got rid of that. You didn’t like the additional money that was in there for financial

CONRAD: WOAH WOAH woah woah wait(cross-talk)

O’DONNELL: So you got rid of that. And we don’t still know how we’re going to pay — you don’t like the tax hikes on wealthy Americans for charitable donations, so that’s no longer in there. We need to be truthful about this, because Americans want to know — and as you pointed out, we have to pay for these things, we cant keep running up the deficit. So if there isn’t a commitment to healthcare in this budget, how are we going to pay for it if you don’t like some of the ways the president proposed paying for his big proposals?

CONRAD: Well Norah, you’ve raised a whole lot of issues, I hope I have a chance to respond to each of them. Lets be fair. On healthcare, we have a reserve fund that provides full flexibility for the committees to write major healthcare reform, but they’ve got to do it in a way that’s paid for. That’s what the administration has said all along they would require as well, so, look, I think that’s as clear as it can be.