Democratic Sen. Wyden On Revisions To Latest GOP Health Care Bill
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
So is the effort to overhaul health care alive or not? Republican senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana are circulating a new draft of their bill to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. This is a last-ditch attempt on a last-ditch bill to win the votes Republicans need. Sunday on "Meet The Press," White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short defended the bill and said he expects a vote this week.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")
MARC SHORT: There are millions of Americans who will benefit from this bill. In fact, we think every state will benefit. And you know why? Because governors will be given the opportunity to allocate the program in a way that makes the most sense for their constituents and their residents. This is long overdue.
KELLY: All right. Let's turn now to the Senate Finance Committee, which later today, will hold the only public hearing on this bill. Ron Wyden of Oregon is the ranking Democrat on that committee. And he joins me now. Senator, good morning.
RON WYDEN: Good morning.
KELLY: If you had to put a percentage on this, where would you put the chances of the Senate passing this bill by Friday?
WYDEN: We've obviously picked up some ground, Mary Louise. But right now there is a frenzy of special deals being considered, elbow twisting behind the scenes to bring swing votes off the fence. So the fight is far from over. That's why this morning, what we're going to do in the Finance Committee - the Senate Finance Democrats - is make sure that people see that the supporters of Trumpcare are trying to defend the indefensible. They're trying to defend a bill that's going to raise Americans costs, undermine key consumer protections, take us back to the days when health care was for the healthy and wealthy. And the only way you can defend it is, as my 9-year-old says, by offering a big bunch of whoppers.
KELLY: (Laughter) Well, I'm going to let you fill us in on those whoppers in just a second. But let me just remind people - I mean, you know the math. But to remind people, every Democratic senator, and clearly you, opposes this bill. Two Republican senators have now come out against it. This leaves no wiggle room, no additional defections if this is going to pass. I gather there is no tweak they could make that would win your support at this point?
WYDEN: I cannot conceive of anything they could come up with. Look, we know who's for this bill. The Republican campaign contributor class wants this bill. And so, in spite of the fact that every single major health group in this country, every consumer organization says this is a bad prescription for Americans, you've got, essentially, a donor class of far-right Republicans who just keep pushing and pushing. And it's clear they're going to try to find every possible way now and in the days ahead to do that.
KELLY: OK. So your committee is holding, we said, the only public hearing on this bill, which is something for a bill that could potentially affect...
WYDEN: Which is outrageous.
KELLY: ...So many Americans. You've got both senators Graham and Senator Cassidy testifying today. What questions do you have for them that would move this process forward in a constructive way?
WYDEN: Obviously, we want to hear them try to make the case. I mean, in the middle of the night last night, they threw out what amounts to a new bill which guts protection for those who have pre-existing conditions even more. It makes it easier to offer junk insurance, bare-bones coverage, to go back to the days when health care was for the healthy and the wealthy.
KELLY: You're saying you think these tweaks introduced overnight makes the bill worse?
WYDEN: There's no question that the provisions that hurt consumers before hurt them even more. It is even easier, for example, to offer junk policies so that if you've got cancer in America or diabetes or other serious medical conditions, basically, the states can waive out of core consumer protections for you. And the states, in effect, would let these people be charged more for simply having a pre-existing condition.
KELLY: So, real quick, what's your top question for the senators today?
WYDEN: My top question will be on those matters that relate to the consumer protections, why they want to raise health care costs and particularly, what is the argument for going back to the days in America when health care was for the healthy and wealthy?
KELLY: That's Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. Thanks very much.
WYDEN: Thank you.
KELLY: And we also have here NPR's congressional correspondent, Susan Davis. Susan, in just a moment, answer the question Senator Wyden wouldn't. What are the chances of this bill passing this week?
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: He is correct that there is a frenzy of deal-making going on. I think the momentum is certainly not in the bill's favor. When you're making a frenzy of last-minute deals, it's because you do not have the votes, not because you have the votes. And the senator hold-outs, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska - their opposition is much more fundamental.
KELLY: They're still holding out. OK. Lots of action to look for today in the Senate. Sue Davis there. Thanks very much.
DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.