In Context: Obamacare "train wreck"

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (right), shown here with Sen. Jeff Sessions, has said Democratic senators Max Baucus and Harry Reid have called the implementation of Obamacare a "train wreck." So, what exactly did the two Obamacare supporters say? (AP photo)
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (right), shown here with Sen. Jeff Sessions, has said Democratic senators Max Baucus and Harry Reid have called the implementation of Obamacare a "train wreck." So, what exactly did the two Obamacare supporters say? (AP photo)

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, a strident critic of Obamacare, likes to say that even strong supporters of the health care law have called its implementation a "train wreck."

The Wisconsin Republican made the reference to Democratic senators Max Baucus of Montana and Harry Reid of Nevada in a May 2013 news release. He’s also done so in interviews, including one July 31, 2013 on MSNBC.

Calling for Republicans to seek a full or partial undoing of the Affordable Care Act, Johnson said:

"Let's face it, it's Max Baucus, it's Sen. Harry Reid that have called the implementation of Obamacare a train wreck."

That such criticism would be leveled by Baucus, who played a major role in authoring Obamacare, and Reid, the Democratic leader of the Senate, is striking.

We wondered what exactly the two of them said, so we decided this would be a good time for In Context, a closer look at a statement -- in this case, the "train wreck" comment Johnson has repeated -- that gets widespread attention.

Baucus’ comments

Baucus made his comments while questioning U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius at a Senate Budget Committee hearing April 17, 2013.

At one point, Baucus said:

"As you somewhat know, Madam Secretary, I'm a bit -- I'm a bit Johnny One-Note on implementation of the law, especially with respect to signups and exchanges, etc., and am very concerned not enough is being done so far. Very concerned.

"When I am home, small businesses have no idea what to do, what to expect. They don't know what affordability rules are; they don't know when penalties may apply. They just don't know.

"I mean, it just -- I was talking to one CPA -- you know, he's not histrionic, he's just being straight with me. He says, ‘Max, I just got to tell you that, you know, my -- my -- my clients, small business people, are just throwing their hands up, and I don't know what to tell them.’ So that's just from the small business perspective, let alone all the other issues that are going to be arising here.

"As I discussed earlier and as you well know, a lot of people have no idea about all of this. People just don't know a lot about it. And the Kaiser poll pointed that out.

"I understand you've hired a contractor. I'm just worried that that's going to be money down the drain because contractors like to make money more than they do like to do anything else. That's their job. They've got to worry about their shareholders and whatnot.

"And also, all the other agencies are all involved. People are going to be really confused. And maybe give some thought to one-stop shopping somehow, so you go to one location -- a business person -- one location, get the answers.

"I just tell you, I just see a huge train wreck coming down. You and I have discussed this many times and I don't see any results yet.

"What can you do to help all these people around the country going, ‘What in the world do I do and what -- how do I know what to do?’"

(Sebelius then gave her reply.)

Reid’s comments

Reid made his comments May 1, 2013 in an interview with Rusty Humphries, who hosts a Las Vegas-based syndicated radio talk show.

Here’s the exchange, beginning with a question from a listener who called the show, and including two comments from Humphries.

Caller: "Did you draft any of the bill, the 2,700 pages, and did you read it and what do you think of Max Baucus calling it (a) train wreck?"

Reid: "Of course I read it. I didn’t sit down on a Friday evening and read it — this legislation was drafted over a period of months and months. It took a long time to get it done. So I can pass a test on it; I know the law pretty well.

"But Max Baucus -- Max is my friend, he decided not to run for re-election, that's too bad. But he's been there 34 years in the Senate and he spent six or eight years in the House. Max said, ‘Unless we implement this properly, it’s going to be a train wreck,’ and I agree with him."

Humphries: "So we're not spending enough money and we're not implementing it properly, in your opinion."

Reid: "Yes, here’s what we have now. We have the menu, but we don’t have any way to get to the menu, and so that’s what we need. And we're taking money, the president's taking money -- I wish we had money just to do this on its own -- but he's determined he’s going to take money from some of the other things that he feels are less important in the health care bill and put it on letting you and others know what’s in the bill and what they can do either to accept parts that would be helpful to them or not."

Humphries: "So, you think Obamacare is good."

Reid: "I believe that a country of our size, the only superpower left in the world — it’s not right that we have — we had, we don’t have it now — 50, 60 million people with no health insurance. We have to have a program where health insurance shouldn’t go to the people that are rich, people who are upper middle class. I believe the middle class and people who are below the middle class deserve to go to the hospital when they’re sick. You shouldn’t have to declare bankruptcy when you have a traffic accident or some dread disease hits your family."

(The show went to a commercial at this point.)