Governor Jindal joined me in the first hour of today’s show.
HH: Pleased to welcome back Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Governor, welcome, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you.
BJ: Hugh, it’s always great to be on the air with you. Thank you so much for having me back.
HH: Okay, I have a couple of questions before I get to your health care program and you released yesterday. The first one is because Marco Rubio was on the program yesterday, and he said he had to decide whether to run for president about a year from now. Is that your timetable as well?
BJ: Look, I certainly think, and it’s no secret I’m thinking about it, but I think anybody that’s thinking about it needs to do so after the 2014 elections. I think that’s right. I think it needs to be after November. We all need to be united and focused on winning 26 governor races, taking the Senate back, keeping the House, a lot of important elections. But I also think we need to spend this time winning the war of ideas. It’s not just about winning the election. It’s about, and that’s important, but you know, as Maggie Thatcher said, you’ve got to win the debate of ideas before you win the election. Let’s go show them that conservative ideas work. So yeah, I think he’s right on his timeline.
HH: Yeah, it’s true about that, but if you’re running for president, your health care plan means a lot more than if you’re just being a public intellectual. And so do you think, is a year from now the latest at which someone can get going?
BJ: Well look, you know, you never want to say never, because in the last few cycles, we’ve seen people jump in super early and super late. I think folks need to be able to go and make their case to the American people. I think this next election needs to be about more than personalities. I think folks that are serious about running need to go out there and say not only how they’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare, but I think they need to sketch out a vision for the folks to know that how do we get America get on track again. And this President has unfortunately, I think, diminished people’s expectations of what’s possible. You know, he sold us the fact that a 2-3% economic growth is recovery. He sold us, tried to sell us on the fact that a diminished America on the world stage is a good thing. He tried to sell us on the fact that a decaying culture is a good thing. So I think this is a very important election, and it needs to be about substance and not just slogans and campaign ads and personalities, though that’s obviously almost going to be a, play a role. Let’s have a real debate about where do we go from here and how do we get back on track as a country.
HH: And I’d like to see that debate, not debates, but that debate begin in November as soon as the election’s over. I don’t think people should be waiting until spring of 2015. So just to wrap up this thing, you agree a year from now is about as late as you could go?
BJ: Yeah, no, look, I think that folks have a right to want to kick the tires and meet folks. And you never say never, because who knows, people last cycle were dropping in and out with all kinds of unexpected things. But yeah, I think that folks that want to run need to certainly not do it before the November elections. Let’s get past that. But shortly after, I think it’s a reasonable time frame for people to have time to go make their case and try to persuade folks, because look, being leaders, especially conservative leaders, it’s not about just taking polls and kind of getting in front of where people are. It’s trying to also make our case that conservative principles work better, and a lot of that is persuasion. And a lot of that’s saying hey, you know, we think school choice works. We think tenure reform works. We think domestic energy production leads to manufacturing jobs. We think a whole host of things that are different from where this President’s been taking us, and I think you’ve got to go spend some time convincing and showing folks why they should agree with you.
HH: Now your health care plan’s very interesting. America Next put it out, the Freedom And Empowerment Plan, it’s called. It comes from a point of view, let me begin with, I think very important, you’re a devout Catholic, right, Governor?
BJ: I am. I am.
HH: What do you think of Pope Francis, by the way?
BJ: You know, look, I think the liberal media, I’m excited that the Holy Father’s bringing so much energy and enthusiasm to the Church, causing folks to look again at the central claims of Jesus Christ and the Gospels. I think that liberal media, and it’s not unexpected, is trying to misunderstand or contain his message, and they’re trying to make it, and you saw this after the President’s visit with him, they were trying to make it all about oh, you know, it was almost as if they were trying to portray, you almost, if you read some of those stories, it was almost as if the Pope had endorsed the President’s agenda and it was all about redistribution. You know, look, you can’t contain the Gospel in a political party. But the reality is this is a leader of a faith who talks eloquently and writes eloquently about the need for redemption, the need for the empty tomb, the need for Jesus getting up off the cross for all of us. This is a leader that is causing folks to reexamine, and I think that’s especially important, reexamining our lives in a society that’s becoming more and more secular. I also believe, and I think this is going to come out more and more, that this is a Holy Father who also has a lot to say to the country and the world about religious liberty. One of the things that concerns me the most whether you’re Catholic or not, or I think Christian or not, or whatever your faith, or whether you had a faith or not, I think all of us should be worried about this administration’s war on religious liberties. It’s bigger than Hobby Lobby, it’s bigger than the case before the Supreme Court. It really is an assault on the ability of Americans to hold their sincerely-held religious beliefs. Religious liberty created this country, not the other way around. And so look, I’m excited for the energy he brings to the Church and the Christian message. I do think the liberal media’s trying to contain him and limit what he has to share with the world.
HH: Part of that liberal media, my friend, E.J. Dionne, likes, and he’s a devout Catholic, too, likes to talk about how the Pope is very concerned for the poor. Do you think Pope Francis understands free market economics, Bobby Jindal?
BJ: You know, I think a lot has been made about some of his commentary and writing. I think two things. One, I think it’s dangerous, and I don’t want to all into this trap, either, of trying to say that, you know, I made fun of liberal media for trying to say well, the Pope was endorsing the President’s message. I don’t want to try to pretend like the Pope is endorsing conservative Republican views on tax rates and other things that we fight and care about. But I do think, I do think that it’s important to understand when he talking to a global audience about the exploitation of the underprivileged, and those that…we’ve got to understand that he’s speaking to a global audience. I think it’s a big mistake to try to translate this leader of a global faith into well, therefore he must be for or against charter schools, or he must be for or against my tax package. You know, I’ve got enough humility to know that that’s not the right way to look and understand what it is his message is. So I think that we shouldn’t fall into the same trap as the liberal media. Now as a Catholic, I do believe that free markets, and not just as a Catholic, as a conservative, as a Republican, and just as a public policy person, I do think free markets, and I don’t think this is easily disputed, I do think free markets have done more to lift people out of poverty than all these other different redistribution schemes in our modern history. When you look at, now that doesn’t mean that free markets by themselves are perfect, or that we don’t need to help folks that are being left behind, but free markets have created more opportunity, have helped more people join the middle class, and have had a transformative effect on more people’s lives than all of these other redistributive government-focused programs. And I think that says something.
HH: Now your health care reform proposal, which is detailed and wide-ranging, includes among other things premium support for Medicare. Other people call those vouchers. And many critics from the left say those are anti-poor because a voucher doesn’t help you if you’re poor. Now how do you recon…and you know, the Pope is out there talking about income inequality a lot and about crony capitalism, from which he comes in Argentina. How do you think the left and even Catholic liberal theologians are going to react to the idea of premium support/vouchers?
BJ: Well, let’s remember where premium support came from. I was the E.D. of the bipartisan Medicare Commission in the 90s when they first proposed using premium-supported Medicare, by the way, and idea that was endorsed by radical groups like the Democratic Leadership Council, endorsed by two Democratic U.S. Senators, endorsed by the Mayo Clinic, the AMA, the Wall Street Journal. This is a mainstream idea. This is a bipartisan idea. It’s been endorsed more recently by various Democrats in different forms, including Senator Wyden and other folks as well. By the way, the CBO has shown that when you look to premium support, it can be done in a way that saves money for seniors, it could reduce their spending by 6%, save money for taxpayers by $15 billion dollars a year in just one example of how you could apply it. The bottom line is premium support simply is saying we want to give choices and competition to seniors. We want to allow them to decide for themselves. This comes to a fundamental issue. You know, the President at the core of his ideology, I don’t think he trusts the American people. He certainly doesn’t trust local and state governments to make decisions. When you think about it, the whole premise, one of the underlying foundations of Obamacare, is that the American people can’t be trusted to choose for themselves what kinds of insurance they want to buy when they want to buy it, what benefits they want. We have a different view of the world. As conservatives, we believe that the founding fathers were right to trust the American people to limit the power of the central government. So premium support simply says we want seniors to have choice and competition. If they want to choose to buy and pay the premium for a government-run fee for service plan, they can do that. If they want to choose a more efficient plan, they can do that, and by the way, they’ll save money if they do that, and they can use that money to buy other health care benefits, put it in their pocket, or reduce their premiums. To me, that’s a pretty good…and we also introduce some other Medicare reforms in here like Medigap reforms that would save seniors again additional dollars in their pockets, hundreds of dollars according to one analysis. That’s another bipartisan reform. But Hugh, you make a great point. The left is going to attack, that’s why there’s so many Republicans that say look, just be against Obamacare, don’t be for something. I think that’s a mistake. That’s why we’re saying yeah, you’ve got to repeal the entire thing – all the taxes, all the entire bill, and then replace it. And the left will always attack us for saying we’re not spending enough, we’re not doing enough. We don’t measure success in that way. The President in ’08, when he was campaigning, talked about cutting health care costs. He was opposed to mandates back then when Senator Clinton was proposing them. We need to remind folks the President was right in his rhetoric, wrong in his policies. We’re about reducing costs, protecting the vulnerable, helping people own their health care through HSA’s and through interstate purchasing pools and reforms in the individual market. What we’re not for is a government telling you how you get your health care. What we’re not for is rising premiums. This plan would decrease premiums by $5,000 dollars. Let’s make health care more affordable, but let’s give the individual consumer control.
HH: Last question, though, Governor Jindal. You said we’re for protecting the vulnerable, and that comes both out of a conservative economic approach, free markets, and from a Catholic social teaching. But Medicaid is never talked about by Republicans, because it’s a real difficult problem. The more people get on it, the fewer doctors want to see them. You know this. You ran health care in Louisiana and you’re the governor. So what would you specifically do about Medicaid to actually make it work for the poorest Americans?
BJ: Hugh, that’s a great question. In our program, one of the sixteen points is we recommend global grants for Medicaid. So what you would do is you’d go to states, you would allow their dollars to grow by population growth, by eligible population growth, by the disabled population, by inflation. But it would grow slower than it was growing today. But in return, in return for this global grant, you would give them flexibility. You would say look, right now, the states have to jump through dozens and hundreds and thousands of hoops by the federal bureaucracy before they can do anything. And nobody is measuring outcomes. Nobody’s seeing whether patients are actually getting better. The Oregon study showed two years out from Medicaid expansion there, there was no improvement in physical health care outcomes. I don’t mean a little. There was no improvement in physical health care outcomes. And so instead of micromanaging the process, we say why don’t we give states flexibility? Now the left is going to say, and the President did say this, where we asked him in a joint meeting with the governors, he said look, you know, if we gave flexibility to the states, then the poor people would be in the street. They don’t trust local and state government. The difference is we believe as conservatives often do, and the earliest founding fathers do, that the government, that governments closest governs best. And it’s the local government, it’s better than saying that power and your dollars are what this centralized, distant federal government can do. So I think that there are specific things we can do with Medicaid. For example, Rhode Island had some flexibility in their program. They reduced per capita spending 5% over three years, saved $50 million dollars. In Louisiana, we did Bayou Health. Just one example, 23,000 fewer days babies spent in the NICU unit, a thousand babies when home on time. Hugh, we saved over $100 million dollars in total for taxpayers. But even better than that, just in that one improvement, and at that, we saved over $100 million dollars with other improvements as well. But just in that one improvement, think of all those happy families, think about the better lives those babies are going to lead. So I would argue this, that the real compassionate way to help folks that are not able to afford their own health care is not just through simple Medicaid expansion the way this President is pushing, but rather let’s give states flexibility, but let’s also put some accountability in these programs if you really want to help folks. And this is a bigger conversation than health care. Let’s grow the economy so they’re not stuck in minimum wage jobs.
HH: One last health question. We’ve got a minute left, Governor Jindal. We have a measles outbreak in California right now, and the vaccination level’s at the lowest it’s been in years. A lot of people are checking the personal exemption, their personal belief exemption. What do you make of that?
BJ: You know what was interesting, in Louisiana, I wasn’t governor back then, but back in Louisiana, back in the 90s, they had a problem when folks weren’t complying, it wasn’t for religious reasons or any reasons, but people weren’t getting their, some people weren’t getting their children vaccinated. One Senator came up with an idea that well, what if we said that if you want to get your kid, if you’re getting government assistance, you know, you’ve got to get your kid, you’ve got to go get preventative care, meaning the vaccines. And they were all paid for at the time. I don’t think there was a big cost issue. And there was a big debate about that. And the reality is the vaccination rates eventually did go up pretty dramatically in Louisiana, and we haven’t had that case since then. Look, I think we’ve got to distinguish between two things. I think we’ve got to distinguish between when people have sincerely-held religious beliefs. I think we’ve always got to be wary of overriding them. But I think we also, if the government has a compelling interest, I think it needs to figure out case by case whether, if the government has a compelling interest, what is the least intrusive way. But I think in all cases, if people have a legitimate, sincerely-held religious belief, government should strive to accommodate that. I think that that would be, you know, that’s built in our Constitution, it’s built, it may not always be what liberal elites like, it may not be comfortable for folks. You know, it will require special effort if folks have different beliefs than we do. You know, sometimes Catholic beliefs may be strange to non-Catholics, and other beliefs may be strange to Catholics. I think we need to try to accommodate them. But again, that’s not to say they always trump. No one Constitutional right is so absolute that it trumps every other right. I think that if the government has a limited, a compelling interest, it should try to be the most limited intrusion it can. So you know, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for folks to say all right, if you’re going to be in public schools, we’re going to look and see whether folks have been, to make sure if folks are contagious or can hurt other people’s children. I think there are ways to do that. But again, I think we’ve got to find ways to accommodate people’s sincerely-held beliefs.
HH: Governor Bobby Jindal, always a pleasure. Thank you, Governor.
End of interview.