Leader Hoyer on Reforming Health Care on CNN

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i'm wolf blitzer. you're in ""the situation room."" >>> depending on whom you believe, democratic plans for health care reform could come between you and your doctor, as some republicans claim, or republican inaction could cause future health costs to simply spiral out of control, as so many democrats say. we're trying to get to the bottom of all of this. here to discuss what's going on, two leaders in the united states house of representatives. the number-two leaders. joining us is the majority leader steny hoyer wnd the minority whip eric cantor. thanks for coming in. >> you're welcome. >> good to be with you, wolf. >> let's go through some of the major points of contention, see if we can find common ground between the two of you. on the issue of a public option, as it's called, congressman hoyer, a government health insurance company, if you will, that would compete with private health insurance companies, is that a done deal as far as the democrats are concerned, or are you willing to back away from it? >> i think there's still discussion about that, but i think there's going to be a public option in the house bill. i hope there is. i think there will be. we think there needs to be an alternative for individuals and of course the republicans when they pass prescription drugs also had an alternative but there was the possibility of a public option in their own bill. we think it's important to keep it in there to keep the insurance companies honest, if you will. >> if there's a public option, a government health insurance company, congressman cantor, is that acceptable in some form to republicans? >> wolf, the thing is i don't think anybody believes that you can have a government compete with the private sector. there just can't be an even playing field. and i think this is where the divide begins. and i'd rather look to see where we can work together, because there are a lot of points that we agree on. steny agrees with me, the status quo is unacceptable. you know, we've got to institute some insurance reform. we've got to make it so health insurance costs are brought down, and we can work together and do that without having to expand government's role in the decisionmaking as far as families and health care -- >> congressman hoyer, so in order to attract republican, maybe even some conservative or moderate democrat, are you willing to abandon that public option? >> no, we're not willing to abandon the public option. there are a number of different facets that it could take, but we're not willing to abandon it at this point in time. we believe it'll be in the house bill. but let me say, there is agreement, as eric just said. the current system is not sustainable. the current system does not include all americans, and the current system is too expensive and it's not sustainable over the long term. so, we've got to bring the cost curve down. a lot of discussion about that. we've got to make sure every american has access to affordable quality health care. we've got to make sure the pre-existing conditions don't preclude people from getting insurance that they need. and we've got to make sure small business can afford insurance. those are the objectives. >> congressman cantor, are you willing to accept a tax increase on the wealthiest of americans to help pay for health insurance for those who are uninsured right now? >> right now we've got a situation, one of the worst economic times in our generation, and so when you're starting to talk about taxing individuals that are successful, the problem is a disproportionate share of that group, almost 50%, derive at least 26% of their income from small business sources. so, what you're really saying saying you're going to go after those people who are wealthy or successful, you tax them but you also tax the job creators. i think if you ask the american people right now where they want congress to focus, it is trying to get this economy back on track and trying to get people in this country back to work. >> i know you disagree with him on that. >> there's no doubt about that. we want to concentrate on that. we passed the recovery and reinvestment act to do exactly that. we gave 95% of americans a tax cut in that bill. >> but you want to tax the richest americans? >> well, that's $350,000 and above. that's the upper 1% of the taxpayers in america that we're asking to make a contribution on that. that's one option, wolf, of funding sources. what we've pledged is we're going to pay for the reforms that we adopt and not make the deficit worse. so, the answer to that question is there are going to be a number of different proposals. that's one of them. we think it's a credible proposal that the ways and means committee has. >> what about the option of taxing employer benefits, congressman cantor? are you open to that? in other words, it would be part of your taxable income, to health insurance benefits that your employer gives you. >> no, we shouldn't be doing that right now. again, think about where we are. when you've got almost 10% of ...