HH: Joined now by United States Senator Marco Rubio. Senator Rubio, welcome back to the program, great to have you.
MR: Glad to be back with you.
HH: I saw that today you called for a six month delay in the individual mandate, at least until six months after the GAO certifies. Any traction among your Democratic colleagues that they’ll go with you until the exchanges are working and six months beyond?
MR: Yeah, that’s a great question. That’s exactly what we’re going to try to do. Look, I just view this not even as a partisan thing. I think this is a common sense thing. I mean, how are you going to go out and tell people that they’re going to owe the IRS money if they don’t buy insurance, but yet the website where they’re supposed to buy the insurance on isn’t working? So I think this is just an issue of fairness and common sense. And I hope it’s something that we can get bipartisan support for. I can’t imagine there’d be a reason to be against this.
HH: We just learned today, Senator, that Florida Blue is terminating about 300,000 policies, about 80% of its individual policies in the state. This kind of upheaval is unheard of as a consequence of federal law.
MR: Yeah, that’s right, and let me explain why that’s happening to people that are listening. Basically, the individual market, these are people that go out and buy insurance for themselves in the individual market, these companies are finding that the product that you used to have that you’re happy with, it no longer qualifies as a qualified insurance program under the new law. So what’s happening is that Florida Blue is dropping those policies. And where are those 300,000 people supposed to go now to buy health insurance? They’re supposed to go to these exchanges. But the website isn’t working. So again, this is, these are 300,000 people right there that are going to owe the IRS money next year if they don’t buy alternative health insurance, but the site where they’re supposed to buy it on doesn’t work.
HH: Now Senator Rubio, we’re also hearing lots of stories. And I’ve had lots of callers from your home state of Florida of premium shock, sticker shock, four, five, six hundred dollars a month in higher deductibles. Are those calls streaming into your office? And are you…
MR: They are. They are.
HH: Go ahead.
MR: Yeah, and it’s going to get worse, because what’s happening is these insurers are starting to prepare themselves for the great unknown of what’s going to happen with the private insurance marketplace with all of this government intervention. And they’re passing the costs off to the consumers. So unfortunately, you’re going to hear more and more of this as the months and weeks go on.
HH: Now yesterday, the President said many things, among them, this.
BO: It’s really good.
HH: He said Obamacare is really good. Did you watch that speech yesterday? And what was your reaction?
MR: Well, I didn’t watch it. I saw excerpts of it. And you know, again, they’re in full-scale damage control. This fiasco of a website is really inexplicable. No matter how you feel about the law, it’s inexcusable. I mean, this is the 21st Century. You talk about setting up a website where people can guy stuff? I mean, that’s like commonplace nowadays. And the inability of the most powerful government in the world to set one up is just completely inexplicable. I know it’s embarrassing, but it’s also deeply damaging.
HH: I just talked to Chairman Pitts of the subcommittee on Health in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and next hour, I’ll talk with Chairman Upton. And I’m drilling in on the reliability of the data that goes in here and whether it’s protected. Are you comfortable, Senator Rubio, that Americans’ personal and most private data is protected from hackers and pirates if they add it into the federal exchange?
MR: Of course not, I mean, and that’s one of the things that some of these consumer agencies are starting to warn about as well. We’ve already had instances of fraud. But beyond that, I mean, look, that happens to highly protected commercial institutions – banks and others who have information compromised, and data breaches that happen all the time. It could certainly happen to government websites like this. So that’s just another concern that people have about logging onto these things and submitting your date of birth or Social Security number. With those two things, you can steal someone’s identity.
HH: That’s what, I’m just curious if there’s any recognition from your colleagues across the aisle, or anywhere in Washington, that this is more than a political issue. This is truly, they’ve got to stop. This is hurting Americans in their pocketbook, it’s destroying their health care, and it’s endangering their identities.
MR: You know, that was my point last week when everybody was kind of depressed at the way everything turned out. And my point was look, at the end of the day, we’re going to prevail on this, because as this thing begins to apply to real life, as people start to see what this really means, not the theory, not the talking points, the reality of what this means to them and to their lives, people are going to realize this is not what it was built up to be. And that’s already starting to happen. Unfortunately, it’s hurting people. That’s what we wanted to prevent. There are not 300,000 people in Florida who have lost coverage that they’re happy with, and they’re not quite sure how they’re going to replace it. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This is just the beginning.
HH: Now Senator Rubio, you’re one of the few Republicans, you know, Jeb Bush is another one, who are actually fluent in Spanish, can read and absorb Spanish media. What is Spanish media saying? And what are you saying to your Spanish-speaking constituents, or at least those who speak primarily in Spanish, about this fiasco?
MR: Well, unfortunately, they’ve been highly susceptible to the propaganda from the administration about how good this is going to be. It’s largely been marketed to people as free health insurance, you’re going to be able to go out and get very affordable health insurance if you don’t have any now. And the rate of uninsured among Hispanic-Americans is very high. So it has some appeal. But I think the reality of this is going to affect that community as much as any other in the country. There are people in the Hispanic community that have health insurance now who are happy with it, and they’re going to lose it. There are people who are going to see premiums skyrocket. And I’m sure there are people that are struggling with the websites. In fact, the Spanish language website, which they touted, isn’t even up and running. So that’s one more reason why this needs to be delayed.
HH: What? It’s not up?
MR: It’s not, no, not yet.
HH: That’s incredible. That has not been covered at all.
MR: Yeah. It has in Spanish. I mean, so again, but the bottom line is you know, this is just part of an ongoing problem with implementation. This thing is not ready for prime time. There’s a reason why they’ve delayed the mandate for businesses. And quite frankly, it’s unfair that they don’t do the same for individuals. No matter how you may feel about this law, people know how I feel about it. But come on, you’re going to go punish people for not signing up for something that they can’t sign up for because the website doesn’t work? That’s just not fair.
HH: Let’s pause for a moment on the Spanish-speaking population, many of whom are in this country completely legally and are entitled to…
MR: Yeah, well, a majority, right?
HH: A majority, and that they just use Spanish as their first language or their native language. And so I’m concerned about this, because the people who listen to this show, there might be some bilingual, I’m sure there are some bilingual people, but they don’t have access to that media. They don’t know about that story you just touched on. Have you begun to get panic calls? And is Telemundo or Univision calling you up and saying hey, Senator Rubio, you were right and we were wrong?
MR: Well, not about we were right, you were wrong. I’ve certainly had inquiries about doing interviews with regards to this, and again, you know, some people use these sites, because it’s their first language and they’re more comfortable in it. Maybe they’ve only been here a handful of years, especially if they’re a little older, obviously, their first language is going to be easier for them to navigate in. But I think what’s telling is that they’ve really invested a lot of time and energy on propaganda in the Hispanic community about how good this law is going to be. And I think it’s ironic that the website doesn’t function. And so again, look, this thing is riddled with problems. But going back to my original point, everyone knows where I stand on this. I want to repeal and replace the whole law. But at a minimum, we should agree that it’s not fair to punish people for not buying something you’re making it impossible for them to buy.
HH: All right, now I want to switch over to the contracting issue. Again, this is an issue with which you are familiar. You spent ten years in the Florida House. You obviously know government contracting at the state level, and at the federal level, it’s not any better. It’s probably worse. They’re flying in a tech surge, Senator Rubio. I don’t know if these people have been vetted. I don’t know if they’re allowed to work on these programs. Are these questions being asked by the majority?
MR: No. Well, they’re being asked. They’re not being answered. I mean, we don’t know who they are, yet, we don’t know how much they’re spending to do this. There’s also a lot of finger pointing already going on, an article today, something in the Washington Post that talks about how the contractors warned the federal government. They warned that this thing wasn’t ready to go, and they warned them that one of the decisions that they made about requiring people to submit all their information before they could get access to pricing and so forth. They warned them that that would further complicate this thing. And so now, you know, they’re going to have the finger pointing, obviously. The government people are going to try to scapegoat the contractors, and the contractors are going to defend themselves by pointing to the warnings they issued to the government. So this thing’s a fiasco.
HH: All right, let me switch over to the politics, if I can, for a moment, of this. The President gave his long speech yesterday, and the aftermath of the very contentious, three week shutdown of the government, I think he may have undone in one day any of the good that was done to the Democratic political interest by the three week shutdown. Do you agree with that?
MR: Yeah, look, I think that the long term in this is not good for the Democratic Party, and I’ll tell you why. None of the major issue confronting our country were solved. So the fundamental challenges that our country is facing, unsustainable spending, a $17 trillion dollar debt, a weak economic growth, a broken tax code, regulations that are discouraging growth, energy policy that’s not being fully utilized. All of those problems are still there. None of that’s been solved. And they only get worse as time goes on.
HH: You’re fading in and out of us a little bit there, Senator. I don’t know if you’re moving around. But if you pick a spot and stay there for a second until we wrap this up, it’s probably good. You might be in the bad, you know, Washington, D.C. cell phones drop all the time. So tell me a little bit about the consequences to conference unity of the shutdown. Are the Republicans back on the same page behind Leader McConnell moving forward?
MR: Well, I hope that we can unify behind the goals that we share, which are to grow our economy, to lower the debt, to get people back to work, to bring the government to a sustainable level, to get rid of Obamacare. We share those goals. I think we’re going to have to figure out a way to work together, because if we’re divided, our ability to affect policy is severely compromised. So the answer to your question is yes.
HH: You might be a key bridge builder there. You’re a Tea Party, originally supported by the Tea Party. Some of your colleagues are upset with Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, and you’re kind of a guy in the middle. Have you noticed that everyone’s kind of laying down their arms and willing to come back to the center of the party to defend these key, core principles?
MR: Well, look, I mean, we’re a diverse party. We have differences of opinion. I think unlike the Democrats, we don’t march in lockstep. We’ve got different ideas, and we’re going to debate them vibrantly. But we share the same goals. At least I hope we do. And I think that’s what we should be unified behind. At the end of the day, we’re the defender, and the party that defends the American dream, hard-working Americans who are trying to get ahead in life to make better lives for themselves and their families. That should unify us. And I hope we’re in the process of doing that.
HH: Okay, last couple of questions on immigration. Obviously, the President said he would like that to move forward. There is no bill in the House. I will be talking with Raul Labrador a little bit later in the week. Do you expect the House to move anything? Or was the President’s rather acerbic and acidic assault on the Republicans a doom maker for immigration reform this year?
MR: Look, I’m a believer that this is an issue that needs to be confronted and solved in the right way. But to get things done in our republic requires both consensus from both the House and the Senate and others. And there are significant issues on which there is not consensus. There are a lot of other important issues on immigration where there is consensus – you know, modernizing the legal immigration system, improving our enforcement mechanisms. I think we should try to work on the things we can make progress on, and the other issues are just going to take a long time now, because there’s just a complete lack of trust in the federal government, and in particular, this administration. And that’s only been furthered here in the last few weeks. That’s just a realistic assessment of this. And I think the time has come for people who are looking for a result to see what it is we can agree on and move on those things. And then there are people that are looking to use this for political purposes. They’re not going to be realistic. They’re going to try to continue to use this as a political weapon. I think that’s unfortunate.
HH: You think the President’s using it as a political weapon?
MR: I think many around him are, and I think he’ll certainly be tempted to. He’s certainly used it as a weapon in the past. And you can already see the outlines of it when he goes around saying that if you basically don’t agree with what he wants to see on immigration reform, then you’re somehow anti-immigration or anti-immigrant. I think that’s unfortunate. But again, the politics of divide and conquer have defined this administration for the better part of five years. I don’t expect that’s going to change on immigration or any other issues moving forward.
HH: And last question, you’re very strong on Defense. One of the speculated courses for the Senate and House budget conference is that you’ll raise the caps on the Defense Department in order to relive the sequester pressure in return for some additional domestic spending. If that is in fact put on the table, what’s Marco Rubio say about that?
MR: Well, I won’t support the move that way. I certainly support funding the Defense. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t places to save money and there isn’t waste there. There certainly is, and there’s ways we can make it more efficient. But we cannot afford to be gutting our Defense, given how dangerous the world is. I don’t think that the way to do that is to raise taxes or increase domestic spending without concurrent cuts somewhere. I think the best way to do it is entitlement reform. And every time that we are forced to make these difficult decisions, whether it’s in the safety net or Defense, we are reminded that the real driver of our debt are entitlement programs that are structured in ways that are unsustainable. And if we refuse to deal with that, we will increasingly be forced to make draconian cuts to other parts of our budget. And we can avoid that if we finally take up the issue of entitlement reform once and for all.
HH: Are you optimistic that’s about to happen?
MR: I’m not optimistic, because it’s politically difficult, and because the Democrats have largely shown that they’re more interested in using the entitlement program, again, as a political weapon to attack Republicans than they are in solving the problems of our country. And I hope things change, but I haven’t seen anything to indicate that it has.
HH: Senator Marco Rubio, always a pleasure to talk to you, thanks for joining us, Senator. Good luck in getting the Obamacare nightmare postponed at least for six months beyond when those websites work. Thank you, Senator.
MR: Thank you.
End of interview.