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Obama Meeting May Energize Democrats Going Into Battle Over Obamacare

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Obama went to Capitol Hill this morning to strategize with congressional Democrats on ways to save his signature Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Congressman Joseph Crowley of New York was in that meeting, he chairs the House Democratic Caucus. I spoke with him earlier and I asked what exactly the president can do in these final days.

JOSEPH CROWLEY: Well, first of all, I think we're thrilled to have the president come to us in his closing days of public office - I won't say public life but public office. I think he's going to go around to bolster and to encourage us going forward. But I think that's part of what today's about. And that's why I was proud to invite him today. To hear from him directly, this is clearly - if not the, certainly one of the, most significant things that he accomplished as the president, as our president. And to talk just to bolster our caucus - we have a big fight ahead of us. And we stand ready to fight and defend the achievements over the last eight years, including...

GREENE: Sounds like more energizing than strategizing.

CROWLEY: Well, I think it's a combination of both. I think we need to hear from him in terms of - and I think, primarily, energizing. I do think that. I think we have - we understand what's ahead of us. We understand the legislative process. We understand the disadvantages that we're at.

But the one we do have is that energy. One thing we do have is we know what we've accomplished for the American people, for over 20 million people who didn't - or almost 30 million people who didn't have insurance before this or coverage before this - then they'll have it and why it's so important to keep it for them.

GREENE: If I may, let me ask you about that because we spoke this morning to Marsha Blackburn, your Republican colleague from Tennessee. And she said that even Democratic lawmakers like yourself are hearing from your constituents that insurance is just too high for many people. They're struggling to afford it under Obamacare. Are you hearing that from your constituents?

CROWLEY: No, no, we're not at all. In fact, you hear the opposite - for the first time that they're actually able to afford insurance coverage, that they have real insurance, not phony insurance, insurance that covers actual events in their lives. So I think...

GREENE: You're hearing from anybody that their insurance is too high, that they...

CROWLEY: I think some folks are committed, you know. And I think it depends on the political ideology quite frankly, unfortunately. I think that what we've been hearing from - and I think this has all been about political leverage and not about delivering for the American people from the Republican end of it.

But I think that there's certainly a constituency out there that thinks that anything the Democrats do is evil. And that simply isn't the case. But that's always something we're fighting back on. I don't think anyone questions, I think, the value of giving - for people who had no insurance or were thrown off their insurance because of pre-existing condition or because of, you know, the benefits that the Affordable Care Act now has that even Republicans recognize but they don't want to pay for.

GREENE: Well...

CROWLEY: They want to keep them. They don't want to pay for them.

GREENE: You talk about the political environment. I think people on both sides of the aisle look at the other, and there's this suspicion of evil. We had Dr. Zeke Emanuel on the program talking about the path ahead now. You know, you have this meeting with the president. Republicans are likely to do something big, maybe pass a resolution saying that Obamacare must be repealed. And then he predicts there might be this period of months where there's time and space where the parties could come together, actually dig in and talk about compromise.

Are you prepared to do that, even if it means some rhetorical restraint - not going out there yelling and saying Republicans are trying to take people off insurance but saying, let's dig in and see where we can find common ground?

CROWLEY: Well, David, this is not new for us. They have had 60 attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare. Sixty attempts, knowing that none of them would be would be successful. But they've gone through this rhetorical debate constantly. And it's - look, we certainly are open to listening. We're not - we don't think that everything that we've come up with is perfect. But at the same time, we know the value of what we have created in terms of what it's done to change people's lives.

They will be taking away a benefit from millions of people who did not have that benefit prior to this. And whether it's through actually purchasing through an exchange or the broadening under the Medicaid system - and I think they belittle that. They talk about - oh, that's just because more people are now on Medicaid. You know, it's not because they have more insurance. No, Medicaid is an insurance coverage for people who have no coverage.

GREENE: But are you opening to listening and seeing if there's something that might be called Trumpcare (ph) that might keep some of the important parts of the law that you find important?

CROWLEY: Look, we've always been open to listening. There just hasn't been anything legitimately put forward to us over the last - you know, since '09, since we passed this bill. You know, it's easy to look back and say - well, we want to keep all the good things. But how do you pay for them? How do you do that and not blow out the budget? And that's what we've been able to accomplish.

GREENE: All right. Congressman Joseph Crowley of New York - he's chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

Thanks so much for taking the time this morning. I appreciate it.

CROWLEY: Thank you, David. Thank you very much.

GREENE: Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.