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Rep. Byrne Outlines How Health Care Fight Exposed Divisions In GOP

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

And we have Congressman Bradley Byrne of Alabama. He actually supported this bill. Welcome, Congressman.

BRADLEY BYRNE: It's good to be back on the program.

MCEVERS: When we talked earlier, this week you said if this bill doesn't pass, it doesn't pass, this is it. And I guess my question for you is, is this it? Is there going to be another chance to get a Republican replacement for Obamacare?

BYRNE: Well, it's going to be very difficult. But here's the problem. We know that these exchanges are failing around the country. For example, I think I mentioned this when I was talking to you earlier, we only have one insurance carrier on the Alabama exchange. And it continues to lose money.

If we lose that carrier, there's no carrier on the Alabama exchange. We're seeing this all over the country. There's already some places that are going to lose their carriers by the end of the year.

MCEVERS: Right.

BYRNE: So we're going to be forced to do something. And if it's not this bill, it's going to have to be something else. So we're going to move on to some other things which we need to do. They're in the queue. They're very important to the future of the country.

But my prediction is that this terrible situation with these exchanges and what they're doing to other insurance around the country is going to force us all back to it. And we're going to have to find a different way to address it.

MCEVERS: And what are you going to tell your constituents there in Alabama, where there is this one insurer, about the failure of this bill?

BYRNE: I'm going to tell them that this program was put together wrong to begin with and that it can't be fixed. We've got to repeal it and replace it, which is what I've been saying for years. So I'm not really changing what I'm saying. We're just going to have to have a different vehicle going forward to deal with it.

And I do think it would be helpful if Democrats would come in here and get into the fight with us. I asked both leader Pelosi and Whip Hoyer the other night when they before the Rules Committee, what's your solution? And they really didn't have much of a solution. So I do think the Democrats have a responsibility now that this has failed to come forward and say what are they going to do.

MCEVERS: We also heard the president today say that he's been saying all along maybe the best thing is for this to just explode.

BYRNE: Well, he's right.

MCEVERS: Again, what do you say to constituents about that though? Well, sorry, we're just going to let this explode.

BYRNE: Well, politically the president is right because it's going to show what we've been saying all along, but...

MCEVERS: Politically fine, but again, what does this mean for people?

BYRNE: It's not good. It's bad. And that's why we wanted to do something, to do it now so that we could keep that from happening. But because we didn't have any Democratic help, and we had some issues in our own conference, we weren't able to do it.

Look. The American people don't really care about the political dynamics of Washington, D.C. They want us to solve their problems. And so I'm as committed as I've ever been to doing what it takes to solve this problem. It's just that this particular vehicle didn't work at this particular time. My prediction is that we'll be back, and we'll probably be back before the end of the year to deal with it.

MCEVERS: You talk about the agenda going forward. This was a big bet for Speaker Paul Ryan. Do you still have confidence in him to get the kind of consensus he's going to need on other legislation in the future?

BYRNE: Yeah. I have a hundred percent confidence. I mean, if you had been in the room with him this afternoon when he told us that they were pulling the bill, I mean, people were going up to him and hugging him and shaking his hand and patting him on the back. Even no votes were doing that. So he has tremendous confidence in the conference.

If anything, this effort has gone up. And I've got to tell you, I think the president's stock in our conference went way up as a result of this effort. So it's not all bad stuff that came out of this. We had a great effort. It didn't come out the right way this time. But, you know, winners don't quit. University of Alabama, my home state football team, lost the national championship. Coach Saban's out there with the team right now in spring practice getting ready to win next year's championship.

MCEVERS: (Laughter) OK.

BYRNE: We're going to move on to the next thing and get a win.

MCEVERS: No bragging or anything, yeah.

BYRNE: No bragging.

MCEVERS: I mean, the thing that this exposed - right? - was that there were - are divisions in your party. There are people on the far-right who have very specific ideas about what the government should do. And there are moderates who have very different ideas. How can you bring those people together on something as big as tax reform in the future?

BYRNE: Well, it's going to be difficult. I don't want to sugarcoat it. I think it - and I think it's going to be more difficult than this was. I don't consider some of the people that were voting no to be on the far-right. I don't know what they are. They - every time we gave them more conservative stuff, they would say no. So I don't know that you call that far-right.

So I think we've got to find what they are willing to do to advance our cause. And they've got to come up with positive things that they want to do and not just say no.

MCEVERS: Congressman Bradley Byrne from Alabama, thank you very much.

BYRNE: It's good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.