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Minnesota Republican Rep. Jason Lewis Talks About His First Week On The Job

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Now we turn to someone who's wrapping up his first week in a new job. It happens to be in the House of Representatives. Jason Lewis, congressman from Minnesota, a Republican, is a new lawmaker, but he already has a national profile. Mr. Lewis has hosted his own radio show and has been a frequent substitute for Rush Limbaugh. Mr. Lewis joins us now from his new offices on Capitol Hill. Congressman Lewis, thanks for being with us.

JASON LEWIS: Scott, great to be with you.

SIMON: Is there something that got done that you'd told yourself, well, I'm glad we got that accomplished?

LEWIS: Well, we're working on regulations this week, and I'm very enthusiastic about making certain some of these burdensome regulations that I believe have been holding back the economy and giving us this 1 percent growth in many quarters - to let the economy and the engines of economic growth restart again. And that's one of the reasons I ran for Congress. But the larger picture, Scott, is that I'm very fortunate to be in a session where we have unified government, and we can actually get some things done.

SIMON: What about criminal justice issues? You've been outspoken on those, I gather.

LEWIS: Well, I have, and I'm a big fan of the SAFE Act. I think there's - it doesn't do anyone any good to treat some of the addiction problems - the opioid problem and others - as a crime all the time and putting people in jail that - who need some treatment. I mean, I think it's a medical health issue. So I'm looking forward to working on that issue and making certain people can get back on their feet.

SIMON: Yeah. You want to repeal the Affordable Care Act?

LEWIS: Well, it's not a matter of - do we want to repeal the Affordable Care Act? I've been in the individual market now for the last few years. And I can tell you at the Lewis family, Scott, my premiums have tripled. The exchange in Minnesota called MNsure is a total debacle. Last year, we had a 50 percent increase in premiums on MNsure - this year, 66 percent increase. So when I hear my friends on the other side of the aisle say, oh, gosh, what about access to health care? I say, right now, there is no access to health care.

SIMON: I gather, though, according to reports in The Star Tribune and other places, that the percentage of uninsured Minnesotans has dropped to the lowest level in state history.

LEWIS: Remember...

SIMON: And the second lowest in the nation.

LEWIS: Remember, there's a crucial difference between having health insurance and having health care. When we talk about access, if your deductible is 10, 11, $12,000, if your co-pays are going up along with your premiums - remember, health insurance used to be - your premiums go up, your co-pays, your deductibles should go down. Under the Affordable Care Act, we're getting the opposite. Your premiums are going up, but your co-pays and deductibles are going up. Your out-of-pocket expenses are no longer deductible until they hit 10 percent of your income.

SIMON: But what about people who weren't insured before, but are now?

LEWIS: Well, look, I'm a big believer in guaranteed renewability. It's hardly insurance if once you get sick, they can drop you. I do think people need to buy insurance when they're young and healthy, and so the industry has a steady stream of revenue. Minnesota had one of the more successful high-risk pools that was effectively banned under the Affordable Care Act. We're going to find a way to handle that problem, and it is a problem. Pre-existing conditions are a real problem, and we're going to address that as we work to repeal the ACA.

SIMON: I have to ask you, Congressman, while you're our guest.

LEWIS: Sure.

SIMON: Did you once compare same-sex marriage and slavery?

LEWIS: No, of course not. There were so many things taken out of context. We had two television stations, Scott, during the campaign that did truth tests on all of these attack ads that were run against me. Both of those independent journalists - one the NBC affiliate, the other the ABC affiliate - said my words were taken out of context.

SIMON: Let me ask you directly. How do you feel about same sex marriage?

LEWIS: I'm a big believer in federalism. I think marriage and family law belongs to the states. In Minnesota, we voted on same-sex marriage. That's the right way to do it. It shouldn't be imposed from Washington. It shouldn't be imposed by a court. It should be decided by the people of the state. I may not agree with that, but I'm more than willing to abide by a process that is constitutional and correct.

SIMON: You must be hiring staff now.

LEWIS: Oh, yes.

SIMON: Would you hire gays on your staff?

LEWIS: Oh, of course. I mean, I've been 25 years in the press. More importantly, that's none of my business. I don't care what people's personal life revolves around or anything else. That - we spend too much time on that.

SIMON: One thing you want to get done over these next two years?

LEWIS: Yeah. I want to get economic growth going again. You take a look at, for instance, the growth - and I'll be perfectly bipartisan about this, Scott. During the Clinton administration, but especially during the Reagan administration, where we had some five quarters during the recovery in the early '80s of 7 percent growth, we haven't hit - we have averaged, I believe, just a bit under 3 percent growth during the Obama years and the last couple of quarters at 1 percent growth. Median household income is still below what it was before the recession. That is not a robust recovery. That is what we have to get going, and we're going to do it in the 115th Congress.

SIMON: Congressman Jason Lewis, Republican of Minnesota, thanks so much for being with us.

LEWIS: You bet, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.