Congressman Mitchell talks about the latest issues facing Congress, including health care reform and security issues.
Ted Simons: Healthcare reform is one of the big issues before congress right now. The house and senate have both passed their versions of reform and work on a compromise bill is underway. Also, there's talk of a comprehensive immigration bill coming up this year. Joining us to talk about that and other congressional issues is Arizona democratic congressman Harry Mitchell.
Harry Mitchell: Good to see you. And Happy New Year.
Ted Simons: You voted for the healthcare reform bill. Why?
Harry Mitchell:I voted for it because I wanted to make sure we kept this ball rolling. It's been 50 years or more that we've been talking about healthcare reform. I knew the bill wasn't perfect and knew the bill I voted on wouldn't be the final version, but I thought it important to keep it moving. Because the status quo just wasn't acceptable. People were losing health insurance, paying higher deductibles, paying high co-pays, they were losing insurance. Healthcare is one of the most expensive items we have in this country. Not to government, but to individual budgets, so the status quo wasn't acceptable and I voted to make sure that we kept this ball rolling.
Ted Simons: Critics say that getting the ball rolling means it's going to head into worse areas. Can you do more harm than good?
Harry Mitchell: No, I don't think so. I think there are a lot of good things about this bill. For example, people who have preexisting conditions under this bill, you would -- would not be denied coverage. You couldn't be dropped from coverage or have your insurance rates go up because you have an illness. These were things that I think are really important. Put a cap, for example, on out-of-pocket expenses that you have to pay either annually or yearly -- not yearly, but in a lifetime. These were important. 60% of personal bankruptcies are caused by medical costs. So we just couldn't continue on the way we were doing.
Ted Simons: How do you see reconciliation? I've read where it might be the senate bill is the base and the house comes in and out with amendments.
Harry Mitchell: Well I'm not sure how that's going to work. I do know that was main bill was passed by the house and the senate, their version was really an amendment to the house. So it's going to go back and forth. I think it's important that there be transparency in making sure that what is finally presented to the house and senate can people with a good idea and grasp for.
Ted Simons: I want to get to transparency here in a minute but before that, the -- the governor says that the senate bill is going to wallop the state with Medicaid costs. Is that a valid concern?
Harry Mitchell: I have the same concerns. I served in the state legislature and the city council of Tempe and as mayor. In both of those governments, you had to have by law, a balanced budget. This is the first level of government where you don't have to have a balanced budget. So I understand the financial pain, the state and cities are going through. I have that concern and I wanted to make sure that Arizona residents and citizens are protected from an overburden of regulation and costs.
Ted Simons: Does that mean states with looser eligibility, like Arizona, do you see a credit of some kind down the line?
Harry Mitchell: I'm not sure how it's going to be worked out. But I was on a conference call that talked about that. And there were lots of concerns, not just by people from Arizona, but California and New York and lots of other states who have the same kind of concerns that we have here. We want to make sure we're treated fairly.
Ted Simons: Let me go back to transparency. The idea of protecting consumers, the financial regulatory oversight bill. You voted against that. Included in there is transparency as far as credit ratings. A variety of things that the president himself said were necessary in terms of revamping the financial industry. Was the president wrong?
Harry Mitchell: I voted against it for one reason. There was going to be another level of government that is going to be placed on all of the other regulatory agency that are there. I believe we have the laws necessary. We have the regulatory agencies necessary. The important thing is to make sure they enforce the law and these agencies have the resources. I don't think creating another level, another layer was going to help us at all. It might -- from what I heard, the input I was getting, would just confuse things. We have the regulators in place. We just need to make sure. That's an important job of congress. I know that congress' main job is to pass laws. But up there next to that is oversight. And congress needs to do a better job to make sure these agencies are doing what they were intended to do.
Ted Simons: Let's talk about oversight regarding national security concerns. President is out with the Christmas bomber report. Took responsibility. But do you think heads should roll because of this?
Harry Mitchell: I was outraged when I heard and read what happened and I sent a letter to both the chairman of the intelligence committee as well as homeland security committee saying we need investigations. We need to have hearings to find out what went wrong. The important thing I believe in all of this, we learn from these mistakes. The president did say, there was a screw-up in intelligence gathering and in our equipment, and technology. This -- and even with cooperating with foreign countries. This needs to stop. And I applaud the president for -- for taking credit for this, or taking blame or whatever you want to call it. But I think what is important we learn from this and don't allow this to happen again.
Ted Simons: Lots of missed warning signs. What the heck happened?
Harry Mitchell: Exactly, and we need to find out where were these agencies that had some role to play in this? Where was our intelligence? Where was our equipment? This is important.
Ted Simons: A lot of criticism of homeland security chief Janet Napolitano. People saying she was out of touch, the system worked -- valid criticism?
Harry Mitchell: What happened was a surprise to all of us and I think the president rightly said that we have -- we screwed up. And I think that's -- you know, after he looked at this, studied it and looked at -- looked at the reports, I'm sure in congress we'll have investigation and oversight hearings to find out what went wrong and correct the mistakes.
Ted Simons: In general, did the Obama administration play down terrorism too much? Did it seem like there wasn't enough attention regardless of the result of the Christmas day bombing incident, or near incident. There wasn't enough of the administration looking at terrorism, critics say.
Harry Mitchell: There's a lot going on and the fact that we did screw up, we had some information that wasn't passed on, I think those are valid criticisms that our homeland security agency, all of those involved, intelligence, those who carry out these responsibilities and pass on the information, they didn't do the job that should have been done and I don't know if heads will roll or not. I think the president is not far from doing some of that.
Ted Simons: Interesting. Comprehensive immigration reform, sounds like it might happen this year, yet we're also wondering, it's an election year and there are some political watchers saying Democrats in control don't want to touch it during election year. What's going on here?
Harry Mitchell: Arizona plays a disproportionate role in this. More immigrants come in illegally through Arizona than any other state. What happens with immigration, without any control that we have. We have drugs, guns, kidnappings and all kinds of crimes committed with this. The federal government has a responsibility and I think they've just been kicking the immigration problem down the road. Arizona needs relief. This nation needs relief. We need to know who is coming across the border. I saw today, recently, that Arizona again, submitted a bill to help pay for all of those illegal immigrants incarcerated. We're paying a heavy price in Arizona.
Ted Simons: The feds should pay that bill?
Harry Mitchell: Absolutely. The federal government has abdicated their responsibility in guarding our borders. We need to strengthen and make sure we know who is coming across.
Ted Simons: But are you and/or fellow Democrats ready to take the lead on that in an election year, and especially when you have a lot of political watchers, thinking that Hispanic support could be lost by stalling on immigration reform or going in the wrong direction?
Harry Mitchell: Immigration reform has to be comprehensive. And include a stricter and more secure borders. But we also have to take a look at the needs of businesses. The employment. It's got to be a comprehensive plan and I think most people realize what we end up having are a hodgepodge of people enforcing immigration laws. Different sheriffs, different police chiefs, different states and different cities and that's because the federal government has failed in its responsibility of immigration. So I think that we have a responsibility to keep from -- keep this thing from going down the road over and over to deal with this.
Ted Simons: Alright, closer to home--South mountain freeway, what's the latest on that? I know you've been very much in favor of going through tribal land and sounds like starting to talk on it.
Harry Mitchell: I think it's important that we talk with the tribal and the tribal government on this. And I think that there's a movement, it's a difficult situation. The tribe needs to say here's what we would like to you do and the state has to respond. But I think there's real movement and with both people being sensitive to each other's needs that we can come to an agreement and I think that agreement will hopefully will put that freeway on tribal land. Where not only the Ahwatukee area benefits and all of those east of that, but also the tribes and their economic development and what we can do to help the tribes.
Ted Simons: So if a federal land swap has to happen, let it happen?
Harry Mitchell: Absolutely.
Ted Simons: Recent polls have come out and show that you're somewhat vulnerable. Depends on the poll, depends on the number depends on who is doing the poll as well.
Harry Mitchell: Sure.
Ted Simons: But there has to be some concern there.
Harry Mitchell: I've read 17 different elections and every election as a democrat I've been in the minority. That's why I come home every weekend to find out what it is the constituents are concerned with and report back to Washington D.C. and I could never have been successful without getting the support of independents and Republicans. And I was raised in this district. I taught school in this district. Lived in the same house for 45 years. I have a pretty good feel for the district. So I take every election very, very seriously. We're prepared for this and the fact what I've been doing, we're going to win it.
Ted Simons: Ok. Ok, we'll stop it right there. Congressman, thank you for joining us.
Harry Mitchell: Thank you very much, Ted.
Harry Mitchell: U.S. Congressman;