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Democratic Rep. Tonko Weighs In On GOP Plans To Reshape ACA

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Republicans who have lambasted the Affordable Care Act admit that repealing it isn't enough. They have to replace it with something. We now have a sense of what that something could be. House Republicans released their plan last night. In a statement, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer did not directly endorse the plan. But he did say that yesterday marked a, quote, "important step toward restoring health care choices and affordability back to the American people," end quote.

Congressman Paul Tonko is a Democrat from New York. He sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the committees that will take up the new revised ACA on Wednesday. He's here in our studios this morning.

Thanks so much for getting up early for us.

PAUL TONKO: Oh, my pleasure, Rachel.

MARTIN: You have long been concerned that Republicans have no plan in place once they repeal Obamacare, that there would be some kind of vacuum. They've now showed us their plan. Do you feel better?

TONKO: Not at all. Look, my mantra had been - replace in place before you even move to repeal. Have it debated. Have it marked up. Have it voted upon. And have it in place.

MARTIN: Well, they want to start that now.

TONKO: Well, yeah, with, like, precious hours to do this process - over 400 pages to read in a few hours when, really, there is not going to be a subcommittee meeting, will not be hearings on the topic. But when you ask if I'm looking favorably upon the replacement bill, what I know so far is that they will lower taxes on the rich. They will raise premiums for our elderly. And they will reduce subsidies for the poor. To me, that is a message for disaster. This should be about affordability, accessibility and quality of care. None of those components are addressed in this plan.

MARTIN: The new bill proposal gets rid of the individual mandate which, as you mentioned, imposes these tax penalties on those who choose not to have health insurance. Instead of punishing people for not having health insurance, republicans want to reward people who do get insurance by giving them a tax break. Why do you think the more punitive approach is better?

TONKO: Well, I think that - basically, either you disrupt the market now. When you have a broader audience invested in the insurance outcome, I think it provides stability for the marketplace. Look, as I see it, we sweep the revenues. We give a $300 billion to $400 billion tax cut to the wealthiest people in our society. We do that sweep of revenues and, at the same time, keep the subsidies in place until 2018 when they start messing with it. Well, isn't that a bit of continued political theater - where you create, I think, a real devastating blow on our nation's budget because you're removing the revenues required for the program but still providing the subsidies for political sake?

MARTIN: So what's the Democrats' play in this moment?

TONKO: You know, look - the Affordable Care Act brought on tens of millions of people. Right? The estimate here is that will probably impact 15 to 20 million people that won't have insurance. CBO, yet, has not offered its score. What will it cost? How many people will lose insurance? What is the impact on the budget? We need all of this information to go forward. And I think the Democrats are open to discussion and compromise but do not reduce any of the three most important components - affordability, accessibility and quality of care. And it appears they've impacted it severely here.

MARTIN: Congressman Paul Tonko is a Democrat from New York.

Thanks so much for talking with us this morning.

TONKO: OK. My pleasure, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.