CHICAGO – Former New York City Mayor and rumored gubernatorial candidate Rudy Giuliani said Thursday that President Barack Obama may be facing the first big loss of his presidency because he has not taken strong enough leadership on health care.
Giuliani, in an exclusive interview with POLITICO prior to delivering the keynote address to the second annual GOPAC conference in Chicago, said the president has allowed fears of so-called “death panels” to persist because the White House has not taken a strong enough hand in crafting health care legislation.
“They never really studied the legislation that has been proposed,” Giuliani said. “The reason for the concern about the death panels is the legislation and the claim by the president that he will cover thirty to fifty million people without cost, and any time you say it’s without costs you raise a number of concerns.”
“It has to be with cost, because it costs money with every single person that is covered. That cost has to come from somewhere, which means something has to be cut,” the former Republican presidential candidate explained. “So where are you going to decrease services? There is a great fear that it will be by cutting off care for the elderly.”
Like former Alaska GOP Gov. Sarah Palin, Giuliani insisted that some of the president’s “closest advisors” have advocated for the creation of “death panels” to determine the course of treatment for some elderly and infirm Americans.
“If they’re concerned that they’ve created this massive groundswell that is worried about death panels, the only ones they have to blame are themselves,” Giuliani said of the Obama administration. “If they would like to end it, they should change the legislation, remove all these end of life panels, remove these czars and come clean with the American people that it is going to cost them a lot of money.”
From the beginning of the process, the White House has been mindful to not repeat the perceived mistakes the Clinton administration made during the 1994 push for health care in not being flexible enough with congressional leaders. Rather than taking a top-down approach, the Obama administration has left Congressional leaders to take the reins in passing the respective bills and intends to weigh in heavily only as the two chambers hash out a compromise in the conference committee.
Giuliani though, said the White House's hand-off approach has proven flawed, claiming that the president has at times lost control of the debate.
“If the White House had proposed the plan, it would basically be the same plan. But would they have looked better doing it? I think so,” the former Republican mayor said. “My definition of leadership is that’s what you should do. Whether it would have worked better this time or not, I don’t know.”
“They would have looked more like they were in control and in charge,” he added. “Maybe the president would have had a better performance during the last press conference, when he didn’t seem to know what the plan was about.”
Additionally, the former mayor blamed the White House for the polarizing nature of the health care debate, and said the administration hadn't made an effort to roll Republican ideas into the legislation.
“When president Obama took tort reform, medical malpractice reform, off the table, he also took off the table any hope of a bipartisan solution,” Giuliani said. “It demonstrated a kind of sense that he wasn’t really acting in good faith, that this was a political solution rather than a good government solution.”
While Giuliani conceded that it is likely Democrats will still pass some variety of health care reform legislation, he believes the White House will have suffered its first big loss if the bill does not include a public option.
“[Obama] really defined the terms of the debate. As I listen to the president the most important thing to him is the public option, if he doesn’t get that, then he has lost,” Giuliani said. “If he doesn’t get the public option it will be an immediate and big political defeat.”
The former mayor though said a loss for Obama is not likely to immediately translate into a boost for Republicans.
“The president has the spotlight, it’s not on Republicans,” Giuliani said. “The president could have any number of political defeats right now and it doesn’t mean anything two years from now.”
“I actually think it would be counterproductive for Republicans to try to capitalize on it right now. I don’t think people are interested right now in Republicans,” he continued. “People are interested in the president’s plan and does it make sense? Does it not make sense? Is it a disaster? There are plenty of Republican plans out there that no one is going to pay attention to.”
When asked to provide his alternative, Giuliani suggested that rather than a systematic overhaul, those who cannot afford private health insurance should receive subsidies similar to the federal grants and loans many Americans receive to go to college.
“If we want to go the direction of universal health care, then the way we should go is the idea of subsidizing people who can’t afford health insurance the way we subsidize people who can’t afford a college education,” he said. “Democrats oppose that. So I believe we are in favor of reform even more than Democrats are in favor of reform.”