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Congressman Fred Upton On His Keep Your Plan Bill That Passed In The House Today

Friday, November 15, 2013

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HH: I’m so pleased to begin it with Fred Upton, Chairman of the House Energy And Commerce Committee and the author of the impressive legislation that passed overwhelmingly today with bipartisan support. And I confront head on the dilemma. He always says call me Fred. I always call him Mr. Chairman. So we’re going to start calling him Chairman Fred. I think that will thread the needle.

FU: You can still call me Fred, my man.

HH: (laughing) He will never…anyway, congratulations. Tell people what your bill does? Why did 39 Democrats vote for it? And what’s its prospects are in the Senate?

FU: Well you know, here’s the sad thing. So what our bill does is it forces the President to keep his promise by saying a couple of things. One, if you had an individual health care policy at the beginning of this year, that counts. That’s grandfathered. It’s not going to be, it doesn’t have to be taken away. Other people can get that same policy, so you decide, more choices, you know, what does your own pocketbook say, what are your health needs. You’re not going to have to pay a penalty for not signing something up for the next year. And you know, until, so I introduced this about two weeks ago, Hugh, and I got 150 co-sponsors almost overnight, a number of Democrats as well. And all of a sudden, the word trickled out earlier this week that we were going to have perhaps as many as 300 votes for this. Democrats, some Democrats got very worried, because there’s, obviously, that’s pretty overwhelming here in the House. And yesterday afternoon, the President proposed a little switcheroo. He proposed an administrative fix, is what I guess he’d like to call it. Of course, he can change it any day that he wants, not as strong as what we did. And no one knows exactly what the authority is that has him do this. And they pulled people back. But in essence, what they were willing to do was to let millions of Americans see the broken promise of keep your health care if you like it, I mean, the President said this for the last three years, even in September. You don’t have to do anything if you like it. They were willing to have all those people go off the cliff, go off the edge, until we introduced our bill, and all of a sudden, they came back trying to think the cavalry had come. But of course, it hasn’t. And at the end of the day, I mean, today, so we give great credit to our leadership, who scheduled the bill literally within five or six legislative days of when I introduced it, and we won by more than 100 votes this afternoon.

HH: Now Chairman Upton, the…

FU: Fred.

HH: Fred, the Washington Post story by Ed O’Keefe and Sandhya Somashekhar this afternoon has this paragraph in it. “Most Democrats believe that the Upton bill fundamentally guts the health law. Among its provisions is a rule that insurance plans starting next year must cover a set of ten so-called essential health benefits such as maternity care and mental health services. The House bill would allow insurers to continue to sell plans that do not meet those basic standards.” How do you react to that characterization?

FU: Well, a couple of things. If that means that I’m still opposed to the President’s health care plan, that that means that I still want to have it repealed? Sign me up. I’m there. But I know that the President made that pledge, and they can’t keep it. And for at least a year, for the next year, knowing that they’ve got rollout problems, they’ve got security problems related to the information that individuals put in there, whether they be the income or Social Security numbers, all that personal information. This thing isn’t ready for prime time. Never was. And the sad thing is we have millions of Americans, families, that are going to get stuck. They’re going to get stuck financially and everything else. Yesterday, we had nearly, I want to say we had almost 80 House members on the floor talk about personal stories from their own districts. Jim and Nancy, and every, all the names. And what we found out, the names that I used was a family in Bangor, Michigan. This is a small, little town. They’d had a 30 year health insurance policy, no deductible. Guess what? The premium doubled, and the deductible goes from zero to I want to say close to $3,000 dollars. They’re not happy.

HH: Wow.

FU: They thought they could keep their plan. And there’s millions of people like that. And this administration was willing to have them go over the side until we introduced the bill. And then of course, they, I guess you could use that word undercut us by trying to come up with this proposal, no one knows if it’s going to work or not. We’ll see. But it’s better to have a law to try and fix it than some administrative proposal. And who knows what the Senate’s going to do?

HH: Okay, now you have tempted me into breaking my no first name rule, because I’m going to use two of them. So Fred, yesterday, Rush urged the House not to touch this, because it in essence, it’s throwing a lifeline to the President and saving a bill that’s collapsing, don’t get near it, don’t ruin the brand, go for full repeal. What’s your response to that?

FU: Well, a couple of things, and you know, it would have been nice if he had maybe checked in with us and gotten information. We had a lot of groups, Club For Growth and others endorse our bill. A couple of things. First of all, what do you say to those millions of people that are all of a sudden out of luck come January 1st? That’s not what we ought to be doing. We ought to be thinking about those people. The other thing is I’m just looking at the headlines today, Hugh. And in the Wall Street Journal, I mean, these are headlines that are like war is over. Obama Retreats On Health Rules, left to right, right underneath the banner. New York Times, In A Reversal, Obama Moves To Avert The Cancellation Of Health Policies, and it’s got a pretty sour face in his picture right underneath it, right underneath the banner. USA Today, Health Law Shakes Presidency, left to right. Washington Times, same picture of the President, The Obamacare Retreat. Washington Post, six picture of a, not very flattering pictures of the President, Obama Offers And Insurance Fix, And You Know, That’s On Me. I Mean, We Fumbled The Rollout On This Health Care Law.

HH: Yeah.

FU: We’ve done in a week’s time what a shutdown and everything else, where we didn’t have the numbers, let’s face it, to try and reverse the fix that we’re in.

HH: The New York Times this afternoon has another great headline. House Passes Bill Letting People Keep Their Health Care Plans, by Robert Pear and Ashley Parker. That’s a pretty good headline, too.

FU: Yeah.

HH: That’s what you…

FU: And Robert, I tell you, I know Robert Pear. I saw him yesterday. He’s a health care guru. He knows as much about health care as just about any top expert around.

HH: So here’s my one objection, though. Why wasn’t the bill online for people like me to read it in detail before it came?

FU: Oh, you know, it’s only three sentences long. You’ve got Thomas on your system. I mean, I’m not kidding. It’s like, it’s not even a page.

HH: That’s all? Because I couldn’t find it, and I asked David…

FU: HR 3350.

HH: I asked Drucker about it yesterday. He didn’t have it, either.

FU: No, it’s online. You could have gone to my website, you could have gone to Thomas, the House system.

HH: All right, my bad. My fault.

FU: It’s a piece of cake.

HH: So tell me about its prospects in the Senate where, and A) first, let me ask you. Is Mary Landrieu’s bill the same bill? If not, why not?

FU: No. Mary Landrieu’s bill is different. And I got quizzed earlier this week about her bill. I had not seen her bill. I’d only heard a couple little things about her bill. Her bill is a lot different, as it turns out. Her bill is a mandate. It mandates that the health insurance companies are required to continue to sell those policies. We don’t have a mandate in our bill. We allow it to happen, but we don’t mandate that it has to happen. The other thing is her bill is forever, meaning it’s indefinite, whereas ours is a one year delay. Hers is indefinite, which you’d think that the Obama administration people would really be opposed to. And even, I know Senator Feinstein signed on as a co-sponsor of that, so as much as Henry Waxman was trashing me, our bill doesn’t go as far as hers in terms of the length of this. She has a lot of, Mary Landrieu also has a lot more transparency in hers in terms of requirements. We didn’t have that. I mean, ours is, you know, three or four sentences long.

HH: So why not extend it to 2017? Why only one year, Congressman Fred Upton?

FU: Well, we wanted to pass it. That was our objective. We wanted to provide some immediate relief to the people that were bitterly concerned about the prospects of their own plan. We thought a one year was good enough that we would not only keep most of the Republicans, and we did, but have a good chance of getting a number of Democrats as well, which we did. Remember, we won by more than 100 votes. Had we done a longer period, it might have been more of a showpiece than an actual piece that you could actually get done, and we wanted to, again, two days ago, before the President undercut us with what is in essence his executive order, we had more than 300 votes for this.

HH: It’s still a huge, whomping victory. Last question, Chairman Fred Upton, the insurance markets are in chaos tonight. I’ll be covering this for the entire show. Some state commissioners are saying they’re not going to go with the President’s rule. Others will lose their authority to say no if your bill becomes law. This is a nightmare for the country. What is the prospect for some kind of comprehensive solution?

FU: Well, that’s why kudos to our leadership, Boehner, Cantor and McCarthy. When we went to them with our idea, our bill, and again, anybody can read and see what it does. They moved as quickly as they can to give us as much time as we could to get the message out that we’re here to help, and we’re trying to help the people that really got run over by an empty promise that simply wasn’t true. And you know, we thought we could build some leverage here. The President put a veto signal out on our bill. I don’t know that the Senate is going to do anything now. And so for all these folks, my family, my constituents in Bangor, they’re stuck. They are really stuck, and they’re not very happy.

HH: Well, good luck for trying and congratulations on getting such a huge victory, Chairman Fred Upton of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Thanks for joining me.

End of interview.

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