Representative Greg Walden, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee joined me this morning to push for the #AHCA:
HH: Joined now by Representative Greg Walden, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, vital to the passage of the American Health Care Act. Chairman Walden, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show, good morning.
GW: Hey, good morning, Hugh, it’s an honor to be on your show. Thank you.
HH: Always a pleasure to talk to you. Chairman, it looks to me like the American Health Care Act is the best possible repeal and replace bill that can make it through the Senate to the President’s desk, and that therefore, critics of it have to deal with the fact this is the best you can get. Is that the central selling point?
GW: You know, it’s, I think that’s part of it, and the second part of it when we get it to President Trump’s desk, it will amount to the biggest entitlement reform, the biggest transfer of power back to states, at least since Medicaid was created, but also since President Clinton signed welfare reform. This is big entitlement reform, Hugh. It’s really important. We put a lot of work into this. And I think it will transform health care in America, but more, as importantly, it will also begin to bend down the cost curve and restore innovation and opportunity to states, but put Medicaid on a budget. All those are important Republican conservative principles many of us have been fighting for, for years and years and years. So it’s a big day.
HH: Now this is only the first time since I’ve been on the air that an entitlement reform of any significance is before the House and the Senate that can make it through.
GW: That’s right.
HH: And so Medicaid devolution, I argued on Meet the Press last night, is the heart of this. The Freedom Caucus came out swinging hard last night. The question is really a whip count question. You can lose 22 votes in the House. Will this bill, or a version of it through regular order, get to the Senate by the end of this month?
GW: I believe it will, and I believe it will get to the President’s desk, because once people have a chance to read the bill, and I’d encourage them to go to www.readthebill.gop, they’ll see what we’re doing here. We protect the most vulnerable in our country, we do entitlement reform like never before, and we do, we get back to market principles. And let’s just understand, this is the repeal/replace plan that we’ve worked on for years. This is the repeal/replace vote the Republicans and conservatives are going to have. There isn’t another one. Now let me say going forward, this is the first step in overhauling America’s health care delivery system. And squeezing out the waste in the middle, getting back to a patient-doctor relationship, and getting the bureaucrats in Washington out of the middle. Can I give you one example of what we’re trying to do?
HH: Mr. Chairman, I’ve got to get a couple of things on the record before we go there…
GW: Got it.
HH: …because I played all of the Speaker’s sound bites already, so they’ve heard the big arguments. But part of the problem with selling is a lack of transparency on the impact. The CBO score’s not there, and Chairman Brady yesterday didn’t want to give me a number for the number of people who will lose their so called insurance. That’s what I call it, the marginal…
HH: So can you give me a CBO score estimate? And can you give me an estimate of how many people will lose their so called insurance?
GW: You know, we don’t have the CBO score. We’ve been pushing them hard to get it to us. Here’s what we do know. When they scored how many people at this point in time would be on the Obamacare exchange, they were off by about a two to one ratio. What you have to look at is not this in and of itself as a silo. Remember, there are three buckets here. One is the work we’re doing. The second is the work that Chairman Price, now Secretary Price, Dr. Price can do at HHS. Remember under Obamacare, the Obama administration gave the Health and Human Services secretary about 1,400 different individual powers to affect the markets. They never envisioned conservative Dr. Tom Price as HHS secretary. So he has a lot of dials and levers there that can help come in and repair and save this market, devolve power back to the states. Those dials haven’t been turned, yet. So this is a multi-pronged approach. If you shoot this on the tarmac, we’ll never get off the ground with the others.
HH: Oh, I agree. But I think critical to making that case is having a number out there for the number of people who will actually lose their so-called insurance.
HH: They may lose terrible insurance. How many people do you think that is? Is it the 20 million number we have heard?
GW: We don’t, I don’t know the answer to that, Hugh, because I haven’t seen the CBO estimate yet. They don’t have it. I know they’re working on it. But you know, we’ll see it when we get it. We have to begin moving forward on this process or we lose the opportunity under reconciliation, because we have to move on to getting a budget passed for the next fiscal year and all of that. Once that begins, we lose this window. It closes, and we don’t have this opportunity. We will have a CBO score before this comes to the House floor for a vote. This is, by the way, not unusual in how we legislate. It’s not how I’d like to do it, but it’s how the system works. You have to have a bill in place for them to score. And so they have to know what is it I’m looking at? What’s the score? We have a markup starting today in the committee. We anticipate hundreds of Democrat amendments. They want to go to a single payer system. They want fully government-run health care where you don’t even have this kind of individual opportunity that we’re trying to get back into place. This is our one chance to stop that.
HH: Now I have been, the House coms team isn’t so happy with me, because I was blasting away at it yesterday morning, because there was no one on Morning Joe, and no one on my show until Kevin Brady scrambled. And I appreciate you being here. Is there a full court press going to come, because I haven’t got the Speaker booked, yet. I haven’t got the Leader. I haven’t got the Whip. I haven’t seen the Vice President or the President, yet. Is there a full court press to sell, sell, sell, Greg Walden?
GW: Look, I hope so. We have one lined out. I can’t speak for the President or Vice President. I’m sure Paul Ryan would love to come on your show, and Kevin, we can work on. I’ve been, look, I’ve been so deep into the policy piece that you know, others are doing the communication piece. I know we have to do both in this, Hugh. I’ve been in your chair, but at a very tiny level. We have to communicate better as a part of the…these policies. Sure.
HH: We have to sell. On that policy piece, have you talked with Rob Portman and Lisa Murkowski about whether or not your Medicaid transition, the devolution of Medicaid with the ceilings and the floors, is acceptable to them?
GW: I have not, because they, I have, I was going to reach out last night. It got too late with the other calls I was making. So I hope to talk to them today. I did, however, brief the Republicans in the Senate last week. Kevin Brady and I both went over. We spent well over an hour walking through the draft proposal. We took their input, and that’s part of why it was a staff draft proposal. It wasn’t a bill. There was no secret room or any of that stuff. That was all the left wing hype. The long and the short of it is we have tried to find a balance here that works to get us through a transition so that we can get back to entitlement reform, devolution of power to the states. I’m a 10th Amendment guy. I want those decisions made by states and local people.
HH: Yeah, yeah.
GW: And so we’re trying to strike this balance. You’ve hit it on the head, though. Half of my Republican conference members are from states that took the expansion. Half are from states that didn’t. So we always knew this would be a tiny hole in that needle we have to put thread through. And I’ll tell you, it is, but we’re committed to it. The President’s embraced it. The Vice President’s embraced it. Secretary Price has embraced it. You know, we’ve got a good team here moving forward. But we worked all weekend on this to try and hear, take what we’d heard from people like Rob Portman, John Kasich and others, and as well as, you know, like Governors Nathan Deal in Georgia and Rick Scott in Florida, I’ve talked to, and Mary Fallin out in Oklahoma. I had a lot of conversations with different governors, Scott Walker. I mean, I’ve been through the list trying to hear from our Republican governors. They’re the ones that will get this opportunity if we can get it to them. Today begins that markup process. If you want major change, this is it.
HH: Last question, then. Does the Freedom Caucus understand? The narrow gate is in the Senate. And if they don’t satisfy 51 Senators, there’s no repeal and replace. Do they get that?
GW: I hope they get that. I’m going to talk at our Republican conference again this morning on that. I hope your listeners will tell them that. It is really, really difficult and important. And if we, you know, part of what we’re getting criticized for is what’s not in this bill. And Hugh, you understand reconciliation.
GW: There are a lot of things that we will do going forward in the next bucket that we are prohibited from putting in this bill because of the rules of the Senate on reconciliation. So we could load this thing up, but then you’ve got to get 60 votes in the Senate. If you can get 60 votes in the Senate, I’m all for doing more. But you know, we have to operate under the rules of the Senate here because of reconciliation. The parliamentarian makes that decision.
HH: And the narrow gate…
GW: And if we lose that opportunity, then we go from 51 votes to 60, and you know how hard that is. I want to get as much reform as I can here. We will continue to move forward to get the other reforms we’ve talked about in a better way. We’ve got a lot more exciting work to do to get this market working and get patient-doctor, health care-centered health care going forward. I just, this is the start. This is one piece. And regardless what the CBO scores this, there’s going to be a lot of other things that will improve this market, will give Americans more choice, and get us entitlement reform that boy, as a conservative, I’ve been fighting for, for years. It’s the only way we save this country from bankruptcy.
HH: It is the first mile in a marathon. It’s a necessary mile. Greg Walden, well done, Mr. Chairman. Thanks for joining me.
GW: Thanks, Hugh.
HH: Come back early and often to sell this bill.
GW: You got it. Thank you.
HH: Be well.
End of interview.