George Stephanopoulos Argues With McCain on Health Care: 'What Would You Say' to Ted Kennedy?

After weeks of featuring mostly Democratic guests arguing for health care legislation, Good Morning America's George Stephanopoulos on Monday conducted a hectoring interview with Republican John McCain. The former Democratic operative turned journalist's first question revolved around the Kennedys: "...You were good friends with Senator Ted Kennedy. What would you say to him this morning?"

After McCain mentioned some ideas that Republicans could do better and, at the same time, advocated for overturning the health care bill, Stephanopoulos complained, "But, Senator, if you repeal the bill, those reforms that you just mentioned will be repealed as well. Won't they?"

Over the last two weeks of the health care debate, during the final run-up to the vote in Congress, five of GMA's six guests on the topic were Democrats. The ABC program featured Barack Obama himself, then-undecided Congressmen Jason Altmire and Bart Stupak, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. The only Republican was Congressman Eric Cantor, who shared his interview time with Hoyer.

Also on Monday's GMA, co-host Robin Roberts gushed over Democrat Patrick Kennedy and, again, highlighted the work of Ted Kennedy on this issue.

A transcript of the March 22 segment, which aired at 7:12am EDT, follows:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: To help pay for this historic legislation, there will be tax increases on individuals with incomes of more than $200,000. And households with incomes of incomes of more than $250,000. Republicans have zeroed in on those tax increases, Medicare cuts and the overall cost of the bill in opposing this legislation. For more on that, we're joined by Senator John McCain. Good morning, Senator. And I want to get to those provisions in a second. But, first, you were good friends with Senator Ted Kennedy. What would you say to him this morning?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Congratulations. [Laughs] We were good friends. We have very different philosophical views as to the role of government in America. It's a massive government take-over of the health care system in America. I congratulate him on his victory. I still think it's terribly wrong for America and so do the majority of Americans. With all the euphoria that's going on, this inside the beltway champagne toasting and all of that, outside of the beltway, the American people are very angry. And they don't like it. And we're going to try to repeal this. And we are going to have a very spirited campaign coming up between now and November. And there will be a very heavy price to pay for it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me get into that as well. You know, Congresswoman Michele Bachman addressed the protesters outside the Capitol building last night, saying there would be more chaos and more division ahead. I know that the Republicans want to repeal the bill. But there are also some provisions that take effect this year that you said you're for. No lifetime limits on health coverage. No denials of pre-existing- of coverage to children with pre-existing conditions, No cancellation of policies if you get ill. Will you move to repeal those provisions as well?

MCCAIN: Of course not. We had proposals to take care of those issues that you just mentioned. Plus, medical malpractice reform. Plus, being able to go across state lines to get health insurance you need. Plus, rewards for wellness and fitness. Plus, a whole lot of things that would have brought down the cost of health care, instead of laying on what the governor of Arizona says a debt that they can't pay. They said they can't afford it. They're going to bankrupt the country. And so, we certainly had alternatives. And we have been in favor of portability and all those things, but not through laying taxes on- well- Caterpillar, as you know, just a couple days ago, said it would be $100 million increase in taxes by one of the major corporations that exports a lot from this country. And helps out in that area. Are they going to be competitive? And who are they going to pass those costs on to? We all know that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, Senator, if you repeal the bill, those reforms that you just mentioned will be repealed as well. Won't they?

MCCAIN: We want to start over, as we've said. We can address those issues. The American people, by two-to-one margin, want us to stop and start over. We're not going to do that. For the first time in history, we will have a major reform enacted, without a bipartisan support for doing so. In fact, about a two-thirds majority saying they don't like it. So, I believe the will of the people is reflected, sooner or later, in the makeup of the government. And when you go against the will of the people, you pay a price.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator, we only have a few seconds left.


STEPHANOPOULOS: But will you also move to challenge the constitutionality of this bill? I've heard many calls from Republicans about that as well.

MCCAIN: Sure. We'll challenge it every place we can. Including the effect on Social Security that this legislation has, which we think is directly violating the reconciliation rules regarding social security. Listen, we'll fight everywhere. I was at a town hall meeting in Arizona on Saturday. I didn't find anybody that liked this bill. The American people don't like it. And they are going to be heard, one way or the other.

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