Burr on Health Plan
Current health-care reform proposals are flawed, Sen. Richard Burr says, because "they start with the need to pump more money into health care."
The Obama administration, he says, needs to back off and begin looking for a consensus position that a majority can embrace.
Republican Burr, elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004 and now approaching the end of his first six-year term, talked briefly with The Pilot after a recent speech at Pinehurst as part of a Moore County Chamber series.
Burr spoke with Staff Writer John Krahnert and Editor Steve Bouser. Here is an edited transcript of the recorded interview.
Q: The news lately has been dominated by Sen. Edward Kennedy's passing. What was it like to work with him and know him personally?
A: Listen, this is not just the loss of the third-oldest member in length of service in the United States Senate. This is the loss of one of the true individuals who stood on his principles.
Even though I might not have always agreed with Ted's position, I never questioned whether Ted believed Ted's position. And I think that that's become such a unique quality in Washington that you really hate to see an individual like that leave the institution.
Q: Does Kennedy reflect the civility among the old senators that's being lost these days?
A: I think he did have his own style for dispute resolution, but more importantly, he was a true legislator, and that meant you didn't always win 100 percent, that if the best you could do was 50 percent, then that was a good compromise position to be in. That's not necessarily what his replacement will try to adhere to.
Q: You're coming up on the end of your first term in the Senate. What are you most proud of?
A: I truly believe that America is safer today than we were when I took office. I think that we have made great strides reducing the threat of terrorism here at home and around the world.
I think we're much better prepared for the liklihood that, at some point, our ability to protect the country isn't so certain that it's not going to happen, but that we're much better prepared when it does.
It's tough with where we are economically and where we are from a debt standpoint to say that I'm proud of the actions of Congress, because I think that the habits of Congress -- not just limited to the last six months but the last several years -- have been somewhat grotesque and disgusting.
And I think we're faced with many challenges today, the result of decisions that Congress made under two different administrations.
Q: What do you think about the major proposals in front of Congress on health reform, and what do you think is going to happen in the vote?
A: One, I think they're flawed, because they start with the need to pump more money into health care.
Two, I can't get anybody who is in favor of the plans to tell me how they save money, and I think that the president said that's the objective and I think the American people understand that the price of health care, the investment, has to go down over time.
I think it's going to be difficult right now with the engagement of the American people for them to move forward on their plan. The question is, do they back off and begin to look for a consensus position? Nobody really knows yet.
In a nutshell, what do we need to do? We need to transform the U.S. health-care system from one that triggers when you get sick to one that actually invests to keep us well.
Q: In your speech today, you urged the people to "keep their foot on the throat" of Congress with respect to health care reform. Are you troubled by the nature of the debate that's going on in these town hall meetings?
A: I think you've seen a tremendous amount of passion that was not ginned up by outside groups. I think you've seen some individuals on both the left and right that were ginned up by outside groups, and I'd just as soon that influence go away.
I think the American people can get passionate enough on their own, and I'm focused not on the 5 percent on the right or the 5 percent on the left, I'm focused on the 90 percent in the middle.
Q: Do you think President Obama is an American citizen?
A; One cannot be sworn as president without [being one.] I think that settles it.
Q: Is that a yes?
Q: The midterm elections are coming up in 2010. A couple of polls in the state suggest your approval rating is in the mid-30s. During the last election cycle, Elizabeth Dole, a prominent Republican senator from North Carolina, was beaten by a relative unknown nationally (Sen. Kay Hagan). How do you go about making your case to North Carolinians and how do you avoid that same fate?
A: Well, two things.
I haven't run for election in five years. A third of the state is new -- they never lived in North Carolina when I ran.
So it's pretty understandable how you can say that for the demographic shift that's happened in America, the 50 percent rule in politics really isn't effective anymore.
Two, I think that it's safe to say, if you look over the five years, I don't even get the media coverage predominant with broadcast coverage that Elizabeth Dole used to get, much less what I've seen my junior senator (Hagan) get. I've never worried about name ID. I had the same deficiency when I ran the first time, and campaigns have a way of overcoming that.
Q: Is the 2010 midterm election going to be a referendum on the Obama administration, and if so, how's it going to go?
A: Well, I think it could be a referendum on Obama. I think it could be a referendum on government, maybe not just limited to the president.
This could be a sea-change election year, and sea change might mean that it's bigger than 1994 (midterm elections).
Q: Are we in the right track or the wrong track in Afghanistan?
A: I think Afghanistan is a totally different track than Iraq. I'm anxious to see what Gen. (Stanley) McChrystal comes up with from a standpoint of the tactics that he wants to implement in Afghanistan.
We don't have the resources that we had in Iraq. We have a much smaller army with the Afghan army than we do with the Iraqi army. We have much less tools as it relates to the tribal component, and their willingness to help coalition forces.
I'm hopeful that Gen. McChrystal will clearly communicate what the strategies are, and those strategies have to be either to win or to leave. But in between is not an acceptable short-term goal.
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