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Chris Matthews Attacks: Joe and Mika 'Pussyfoot' Issue of Health Care Reform

Chris Matthews got into a heated exchange with MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski on Wednesday, accusing them of "pussyfooting" the issue of health care and its cost. He also attacked conservatives in general, deriding, "You know, it seems to me that the right-wing will fight any war and say, 'Don't look at the cost,' because they want to fight the war."

The Hardball host fretted, "And this pussyfooting around and looking at the costs....We could have avoided World War II if we went through the cost factors ahead of time. We wouldn't have won World War II if we looked only at the costs." Firmly declaring for universal health care, Matthews asserted people "should have health care" and smeared Morning Joe host Scarborough: "That's a value judgment that I've made and the American people have made. And you have not made. You have not made that value judgment." [audio available here]

Scarborough struck back, decrying wasteful spending and saying that he did support a health care plan, so long as it was affordable and did not bankrupt the country. He sarcastically questioned Matthews, "Chris, would you like us to play 'Just As I Am' and have me walk down to the front of the church and recommit my life to nationalized health care?" Co-host Brzezinski defended her colleague and clearly resented a jibe that Matthews threw her way.

Towards the end of the segment, Matthews lumped Brzezinski in with those that he claims only bring up the cost issue of health care as a way of derailing reform: "No, I think you're caught up in this, Mika. I think you've been caught up in this pussyfooting here. That's the problem here." Scarborough quickly attempted to go to commercial, but this exchange followed:

BRZEZINSKI: No. Actually, I want to know what he means by that.

MATTHEWS: It's just that I think, fighting a war that wasn't necessary is not the same as denying people health care when they go to work. I think we got to provide people with health care. We don't have to go to the wars. There's a difference in values.

BRZEZINSKI: Chris! I take issue with "caught up." I'm not sure what you're saying with that, but I'll tell you this. There's nothing wrong as a member of the media to ask questions about-

MATTHEWS: We have to ask the questions, but we have to make a value judgment as well.

BRZEZINSKI: We have to ask the questions. That's great. And we are asking the questions.

Earlier, Matthews derided the cost component argument by complaining, "Well, the problem, is Joe, that the people who make this cost argument are the people who made the argument against Medicare, 'cause they didn't want Medicare. They didn't want Social Security."

A transcript of the Morning Joe segment, which occurred at 8:18am, follows:

CHRIS MATTHEWS: And this pussyfooting around and looking at the costs, if you want to kill it, come up with this: We could have avoided World War II if we went through the cost factors ahead of time. We wouldn't have won World War II if we looked only at the costs.

SCARBOROUGH: You're exactly right, Chris. I mean, like the Bush administration over the past eight years, they didn't pussyfoot around. They just wrote checks. Stimulus bill, they didn't pussyfoot around, they wrote a $800 billion check. Barack Obama's administration didn't pussyfoot around. Record deficits for the next decades. Wall Street, they didn't pussyfoot around. They just wrote checks. The banks didn't pussyfoot around, they just wrote checks. Let's just do it. Just write checks without asking questions.

MATTHEWS: The value the Bush administration had-

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Let Chris speak. Okay, go ahead, Chris.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: No. We ask the questions. We look at the costs and we get it done.

BRZEZINSKI: You can't just look at the costs, don't you-

CHRIS MATTHEWS: You know, it seems to me that the right-wing will fight any war and say, 'Don't look at the cost,' because they want to fight the war.

BRZEZINSKI: No. Well, you know what-

MATTHEWS: Did anybody look at the cost factor when we went into Iraq?

BRZEZINSKI: Absolutely. You're absolutely right. And Joe will agree with that.

SCARBOROUGH: Actually, Chris, I know this will shock you 'cause I haven't talked about it on the show. I've written a book about this. About how Republicans spend too much money over the past eight years. I'm a humble, quiet man so I don't talk about it a lot. It's called "The Last, Best Hope."

MATTHEWS: Joe- It's called "The Last, Best Hope." "The Last, Best Hope."

SCARBOROUGH: I have a telethon. No, Chris, but the thing, is it's not- they should have asked tougher questions. We should have asked tougher questions about a $7 billion Medicare drug program that's bankrupting Medicare! Medicare and Medicaid go bankrupt over the next ten years.

BRZEZINSKI: Wouldn't you agree with that?

MATTHEWS: : Joe, I think there is a sound debate to have.

SCARBOROUGH: Hang on a second, Chris. Chris, hold on. When Medicare and Medicaid go bankrupt, I don't want to be mischaracterized here, it is going to be the poor and the elderly who are disproportionately hurt. I've not no problem providing 47 million people with health care insurance. Show me how the system survives over the next decade and then we can have a good conversation about providing this.

MATTHEWS: Well, the problem, is Joe, that the people who make this cost argument are the people who made the argument against Medicare, 'cause they didn't want Medicare. They didn't want Social Security. And they- we wouldn't have it if we listened to those arguments.

SCARBOROUGH: Chris, you're fighting old wars. I'm talking about the future.

MATTHEWS: No, I'm fighting the war you're fighting right now, Joe. It sounds like you'd be happy if at the end of the year we decided it was just too expensive and better off not having a health care plan.

SCARBOROUGH: Chris- Don't- Chris, don't come on my show and accuse me of things that I don't do. You're throwing around terms like right-wing. You have no idea, obviously, what my position is on health care.

MATTHEWS: Are you for a health care bill this year?

SCARBOROUGH: Please, let me finish what I say. And then I will let you talk.

MATTHEWS: Do you want a health care bill?

SCARBOROUGH: I'm concerned- Hey, Chris, I'm going to ask you again to let me finish what I say and then I will let you talk. I am concerned as are most economists about the fact that rising health care costs cripple America's economy over the next decade, Medicare and Medicaid. Yes, I want a health care bill. I want a health care bill that slows down the costs over the next 10 to 20 years, that saves us economically. If 47 million uninsured Americans can be part of that, that's fine. But if you don't mind me saying so, this attitude of let's just write a check and worry about it later, that's what George W. Bush got wrong over the past eight years and what Barack Obama's got wrong over the first six months. And that's why the poll numbers are turning on him right now on these issues. Go ahead.

BRZEZINSKI: Chris.

MATTHEWS: Well, I disagree. I think the country has made a commitment in every poll we take that we need a public option. We need a health care plan for the country. We're the only industrialized country that doesn't have one. We're way behind on this. People that come to work, who catch the bus in the morning, who work all day, who provide for their families, should have health care, Joe. That's a value judgment that I've made and the American people have made. And you have not made. You have not made that value judgment.

SCARBOROUGH: Chris-

BRZEZINSKI: Oh, no.

SCARBOROUGH: So, there you go, Chris. Again putting words into my mouth. That I have-

MATTHEWS: Well, deny it then.

SCARBOROUGH: If that makes you feel better-

MATTHEWS: No. Just say I have made a commitment to health care in America.

SCARBOROUGH: Chris, would you like us to play "Just As I Am" and have me walk down to the front of the church and recommit my life to nationalized health care?

MATTHEWS: Yeah.

SCARBOROUGH: Listen to me one more time. I will say it again. I have got no problem with 47 million uninsured people getting health care. I think it is immoral that 47 million Americans don't have health care in this country. However, that's got to be part of a bigger package that takes care of the long-term cost of Medicare and Medicaid and health care for the rest of America. You provide what you're talking about right now without looking at this whole, entire problem. You'll have a bankrupt system ten years from now. I'm looking at the bigger picture, Chris.

MATTHEWS: I agree with you as long as we get it done.

BRZEZINSKI: Okay. Well, I'm not sure it can be 'get done.'

MATTHEWS: It has to get done.

BRZEZINSKI: I will say on the left, this isn't a right-wing thing. On the left, I questioned President Bush's spending on wars. I also questioned the numbers here as well as are, I think it's 84% of Americans. I think we have to be careful with the conversation. Chris Matthews, please stay with us. We'll continue the conversation and we'll be-

MATTHEWS: No, I think you're caught up in this, Mika. I think you've been caught up in this pussyfooting here. That's the problem here.

MATTHEWS: Okay. Thank you, Chris. We're going to come back and-

BRZEZINSKI: No. Actually, I want to know what he means by that.

MATTHEWS: It's just that I think, fighting a war that wasn't necessary is not the same as denying people health care when they go to work. I think we got to provide people with health care. We don't have to go to the wars. There's a difference in values.

BRZEZINSKI: Chris! I take issue with "caught up." I'm not sure what you're saying with that, but I'll tell you this. There's nothing wrong as a member of the media to ask questions about-

MATTHEWS: We have to ask the questions, but we have to make a value judgment as well.

BRZEZINSKI: We have to ask the questions. That's great. And we are asking the questions. I want it to be deficit neutral.

MATTHEWS: And we are asking the questions. My question is are we going to get it done or pussyfoot?

- Scott Whitlock is a news analyst for the Media Research Center.