I often find that space constraints and the logical progression of stories leave out fascinating details -- juicy, homeless little thought-nuggets. What to do with them? Dump 'em on Pith, that's what. So here's the overflow from an interview I had with Rep. Jim Cooper, the subject of a City Paper piece today on health care reform and its politics. You'll find Cooper's take on Republicans as so-called fiscal conservatives, his reaction to Biden's F-bomb at the bill signing, and the state of health insurance:
On Republicans: "They decided pretty early on at the start of last year that they didn't want to participate. I was talking to Republicans as recently as last week who really wanted to vote for the bill but they were terrified of the consequences. One friend of mine...his son was begging him to go down in history as doing the right thing. The dad chickened out. These are good people. You shouldn't fault them, but they feel like they're in a straitjacket and they're terrified of some of these right-wing groups. This guy's a hardcore Republican -- lifelong, card-carrying Republican."
On Ted Kennedy: "The irony is it might have been a more moderate bill if Ted Kennedy were still living. He was a more self-confident liberal who didn't mind compromising with Republicans."
On VP Biden's F-bomb: "Oh, you're kidding! And it was caught on tape? What an idiot. Well, it is a big deal."
On health insurance: "My insurance is Tennessee Blue Cross/Blue Shield -- the same insurance I had when I was a small businessman in Nashville. I have the benefit of purchasing as a federal employee through a large pool. But when you look at TN BCBS you see a company that claims to be non-profit but just built a brand-new $400 million headquarters in Chattanooga, and they leveled a small hill to build their headquarters. And I've discovered the Blues(BCBS) nationwide get a billion dollars every year from the federal government. You see those sort of abuses and you think, 'Can't we do better than this?' There are countless tens of thousands of people in our area and millions across Tennessee who need a fairer, better deal. Why can't we do that? Truth is the insurance lobby has the most powerful lobby in all of American history. They're so powerful there really isn't an oversight committee in Congress. They got in 1946 a provision that basically banned congressional oversight, which is the catbird seat if you're an industry. Very few industries if any have had that sort of privilege. Plus they get exemption from antitrust laws. I think they should be competitive, private businesses -- not favored with all these government perks, and that's the way they've been for a long time. Now these are not bad people in these companies....over the years they've started competing in a negative way.....The conditions vary dramatically between states and even sometimes within a state. You might need that (public) option more in a state like Alabama where their local Blue Cross has 85 percent of the market share. In Tennessee, Blue Cross has...I'm rusty on this...I think it's 60 percent of the market share. A business with a 60-percent market share is usually feeling pretty good about themselves. I think there are eight or 10 states where (BCBS) has 80 percent of the market share. That's a sign of near-complete market failure."
On the public option: "You can say the public option still lives. It's not in the robust form many people would like, but it could still fit. Many of the states that have the most monopolistic insurance companies are farm states where the co-op tradition is still strong. Just that way of setting up a rival insurance company could end up being very powerful. That's private sector. It's not government."
On Republican fiscal responsibility: "We just had a conservative president -- or one who claimed to be conservative. Well, did he curb entitlement spending? He made it $8 trillion worse. The Medicare drug bill? They didn't even attempt to pay for it. The vice president, Dick Cheney, said deficits don't matter. It's ridiculous that he got away with saying that for eight years. These guys get credit for being conservative? Eisenhower had a good eight years. Nixon's term was cut short (chuckles). You know, Reagan was incredibly powerful. He not only didn't balance the budget, he made it far, far worse. George Bush and George W. Bush, too. I encourage everybody to update their stereotypes. Clinton didn't just give us one year. He gave us three years. We were on a path to eliminating the national debt. Democrats actually know how to do this, but the PR is the opposite."
On the coming November elections: "I'm hired by the folks in my district to do a good job for my country. That's what I try to do. That's what my 90-year-old mother taught me: Try to do the right thing. Not the temporarily popular thing."
On the provision of the bill that prevents illegal immigrants from purchasing health insurance at full price through the exchange: "This bill would not have passed if it had offered health insurance to illegal immigrants. There are a lot of pros and cons in that debate, but that's the bottom line. People will not support health reform if it takes what many people view as the Good Samaritan approach."