Congressman Steve Scalise, the House GOP Whip, joined me today:
HH: I am joined now by the House GOP Whip, the third-ranking member of the House GOP caucus, Representative Steve Scalise. Whip Scalise, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show, great to have you, as always.
SS: Hugh, it’s great to be back with you. Good morning.
HH: Good morning. I want to get right to it. It seems to me that Rules Committee has to make some amendments to satisfy critics of the AHCA on the right, and critics on the left. Do you think amendments will be made in the House Rules Committee?
SS: I do. We’ve been working with a lot of our members, all the different caucuses within our conference, as well as with President Trump. And you know, when you look at where we are now, we’re pretty close to closing out a lot of those issues, no major rewrites of the bill. I mean, if you look at the CBO score, for all that they might say about it, they confirm that it lowers premiums for families, it reduces the deficit, it cuts taxes over $800 billion. So it achieves the basic things you would want to achieve in health care, and that is giving people freedom first so that they can choose the plan they want. Now the CBO says that means 14 million people would choose to abandon Obamacare because it’s so failed. That’s not lost coverage to me. That’s health care freedom. But ultimately, it puts those choices back in the hands of families.
HH: Senator Cotton on this show yesterday, Senator Cruz to the Washington Post, and Senator Lankford just now, and I will have Senator Graham on, they all say that the House bill won’t pass, that it’s got to be more aggressive in some regards, so let’s walk through that. It seems to me that perhaps the House was timid in using tax policies to dis-incentivize bad health care policy. For example, if an amendment is put forward that will tax every policy from a company that does not offer at least one policy with a limited number of essential benefits, you attack the essential benefits rules, you create the much in demand high deductible, catastrophic coverage policy, and you get qualified for reconciliation by using a tax surcharge as a penalty. Why aren’t we being that creative, Mr. Whip?
SS: Well, there are a lot of things that have already been pulled into the bill that take into consideration ideas from our most conservative members. We’ve also got members on the other side that are concerned that the bill might be going too far, so you obviously have to strike a balance. Anybody can have a better idea. I’ve written a health care bill when I was Republican Study Committee chairman. We had 130 co-sponsors. It was a really good bill. 130 votes doesn’t pass a bill. You need 218. I would encourage my Senate colleagues, first of all, some of them are saying we’re moving too fast. I would say we’ve waited seven years to finally move a bill that guts Obamacare and replaces it. Let’s actually keep this process moving. Let them go and build coalitions for their good ideas. I have not seen any legislative text from any of those members. So you know, ultimately, and idea is nice, but you actually need legislative text. We’ve got legislative text, and we’re making it better.
HH: But they think you, their general critique is that the House leadership has narrowly interpreted the reconciliation rules, and not been creative enough by using taxing authority, which qualifies under the Reid Rule, to dis-incentivize bad behavior. For example, if you tax every policy from a state that does not have a limit on pain and suffering damages, you will incentivize them to put a limit on pain and suffering damages. You’ll answer that criticism. Why not swing for the fences on some of this, and if the parliamentarian says no, it’s not on you guys, then. It’s on the Senate parliamentarian.
SS: Well, there’s difference in how this bill works because of reconciliation. It’s a narrow rule. It’s really a rule that’s designed for the Senate. We can pass anything we want with 218 votes in the majority in the House. The Senate, in order to get most bills through, you need 60 votes. Because of their rules, this allows you 51 votes. If you put too much in the bill where it does not qualify for reconciliation, then when you get to the Senate, you no longer have the privilege of 51 votes.
HH: Well, we get that. We get that, but…
SS: It would be a 60 vote bill.
HH: I’m proposing only…
SS: The AHCA is a way to test all of this in the Senate a lot easier. We went through this a year and a half ago when we put a bill on Barack Obama’s desk. There were some things that were in gray areas, and senators were saying hey, just put it in your bill. We said look, it’s a lot easier if you all test is on the Senate floor. Some things actually got thrown out on the Senate floor, but it didn’t jeopardize the overall bill.
HH: But you do satisfy political constituencies, and I think perhaps the Beltway bubble, I’m hearing from people you folks haven’t been aggressive enough. I support your bill. We’ve got to pass this. It’s our unique opportunity. I said that a thousand times. So I’m 100% whatever you guys come forth has got to get to the Senate to get it fixed. But the perception is of timidity on the part of the House when it comes to swinging for the fences.
SS: Well, believe me, there are some of our members who think that we went too far, so you’ve got to strike a balance. But what we did last time, two years ago, we said senators, if you can go further, please go further under your rules. It’s your rules that limit us in the Senate. House rules don’t. So some senators tried to go further. They weren’t able to. Some were able to go further, and we took those changes, but none of that jeopardized the bill. If we put too much in the bill to where it’s no longer a reconciliation bill, look, we sent a full repeal of Obamacare bill to the Senate. Guess what, Hugh? It took 60 votes, and the bill never passed.
HH: I get that. I’m talking about only…
SS: so we can’t get so cute, we can’t get so cute that we jeopardize the entire thing and lose our opportunity to repeal and replace Obamacare.
HH: But did you, can you cite to me any aspect of the AHCA that uses tax surcharges to dis-incentivize bad behavior like non-portable policies, policies that are only available in one state, policies with too many benefits? You know, tax policy can dis-incentivize behavior, and it gets through reconciliation. Have you guys done any of that, because I read, you know, I’ve heard a lot of Republicans say we published this a year ago. I read everything. I’ve talked it forever, but the bill dropped on Monday, and it seemed like the walls came down on suggestions.
SS: Well, the main approach we have is to get the government mandates out of health care. That’s what’s destroying health care. And there are companies, insurance companies aren’t writing policies anymore. You look in most states, they have literally one provider, and in a lot of those cases, that provider’s looking at getting out as well. We need to open it up, a marketplace where everybody wants to come and offer you policies at whatever price you want to pay for whatever benefit you want.
HH: That’s why you want a, I think, that’s why I think you want to tax companies that don’t offer policies of bare bones available everywhere.
SS: And look, I mean if adding more taxes to people is better policy, let them argue that out on the Senate. We’re actually cutting over $800 billion in taxes in our bill. But we’re trying to get all of these mandates and taxes from Obamacare out of law.
HH: I know, but I…
SS: That’s destroying health care.
HH: There are, but those, the fact that we don’t have any high deductible interstate-available policies is the problem. Let me turn to the credits.
HH: There’s a four square box, Steve Scalise, whip, I’m talking with the Whip of the House GOP, number three ranking guy, and most of the incoming has been about the tax credits. We have a four square box. We have poor and not poor on one side, we have young and not young on the other. It seems to most people that most of the tax credits ought to be going to the poor and the not young box, and that’s the number one priority, then the poor and the young box is the number two priority, because they’re likely to be healthier than the poor and the not young. But that’s not the tax credit structure that evolved. Are we going to get an amendment on the tax credit structure?
SS: You know, when this started, it was an open-ended tax credit, and a lot of our members, especially our more conservative members, said that they don’t want an open-ended tax credit. So what was done was it was changed to cap it. So now, there is a cap on it, and you know, you can argue should the cap be lower, should it be even higher, because if we do give additional support for senior citizens, because you know, you look, their costs are going to be higher over the years, so there’s age benefits added to the credit, but it was capped. And if somebody wants to go lower, let’s have those conversations. And again, this is the approach that many conservatives have been wanting for a long time. Medicaid reform is in the bill, defunding Planned Parenthood, I’m glad we’re no longer arguing about whether or not we should defund Planned Parenthood. We’ve resolved it. That is in our bill, and it’s being done.
HH: Medicaid reform is the key. It’s everything to me.
HH: It’s an entitlement reform, but a lot of, including conservatives like me, don’t want to leave people transitioning from Medicaid to the workforce with a benefits cliff. And Avik Roy has discussed this. I’ve discussed it with the Speaker. It seems to me that there is overwhelming opinion left to right that you’ve got to redirect the tax credits towards the poor people who are in risk of the benefits cliff. But it also seems to me that the earmuffs are on in the House caucus.
SS: Well, again, we did make those changes in the tax credit to redirect it to lower income families, not to mention, and Hugh, this is a big point that’s being lost. Under our bill, premiums actually start going down. One of the reasons you’re seeing a lot of lower income people get out of the marketplace altogether is because they can’t afford Obamacare even with all of the tax benefits, you know, the exchange subsidies that are out there, and then Medicaid is a broken system. So we’re giving full flexibility to governors on Medicaid. They can be much more creative than Washington. Under our bill, they get to go and create a better Medicaid system that works for each state individually. Then there’s going to be additional help given to low income people through a tax credit so they can go buy whatever they want, but at a lower cost, Hugh. That’s what’s driving people away right now. It’s the high cost and the high deductibles in health care. We eliminate that in our bill.
HH: One of the Tom Cotton critiques yesterday, Whip Scalise, is that the Medicaid deterrent to break through the limits on spending is not hard enough, that you haven’t capped Medicaid hard enough. Now I know you’re caught between the monster on the left and the monster on the right. The conservatives want a harder line, the liberals want a softer line. But the one that does make sense to me, if we’re going to reform Medicaid, we’ve got to cap it hard so these states are obliged to innovate. Do you think the cap is hard enough?
SS: Yeah, the cap actually got stronger through this process over the last two weeks. We actually strengthened it. Some people were concerned, you know, gee whiz, you’re not, the bill’s going to cost money to the taxpayer. The score came out and showed we save over $337 billion dollars that we reduce from the deficit. That’s a massive savings, and a lot of that, you get by capping and reforming Medicaid. It’s not just about capping it. It’s about giving flexibility so you can actually get better health outcomes with less money.
HH: I got that part, but…
SS: Yeah, we did put that in place. And look, if Senator Cotton’s got an idea that can attract 50 more senators, I encourage him to go write something down. I mean, he has, I’ve never seen a page of legislative text from him, or two or three more senators agreeing with him. You need 50 in the Senate to get your great idea put into the bill, and I’d encourage him to spend his time working on that, building that coalition, instead of telling the House to slow down. American families have not been telling me they want to wait and keep Obamacare in place longer. They’re saying we’ve waited long enough. Give us relief from Obamacare. And even according to the CBO, 14 million people, if given the choice to have that freedom, will get off of Obamacare as soon as we get this bill to the President’s desk and signs it.
HH: There is clearly friction between the House GOP and the Senate GOP. I am an outsider that wants you to get together and pass a 51 vote bill. What is the role of President Trump here? Have you spoken with him after that televised meeting? Is he going to convene the disagreeing parties so you can hammer out a deal that everyone can support?
SS: Yeah, I sure have, and I spoke to the President again yesterday. He’s very engaged in this. He’s talking to all of our members. I mean, he’s talking to different factions within our conference, and he recognizes you know, there’s a delicate balance. Health care is very complicated for a reason. There’s a reason Republicans before Obamacare were never able to go and reform the health care system, because it’s complicated. But we’re working through all of those issues right now. None of them are easy, but every one of them is important. And the main objectives need to be give freedom back to families, lower costs for families, and if you can do tax reduction and Medicaid reform, and protect life all at the same time, that’s even better. These are all things that are in the bill.
HH: But he is the ultimate, the Art of the Deal guy.
HH: Does he have command of the deals? And is he bringing people together, the Republicans? All the votes have got to come with an R behind them. We’re not going to get any D votes.
HH: So he just has to, is there a plan to get your folks together under the President’s guidance and the Vice President’s cajoling to get to a common ground? Is there a plan in place to make that happen?
SS: Yeah, and again, the President’s been having direct conversations with members as well, and you’re going to see him today go to Tennessee. He’s starting to get around the country. He’s doing some TV later on tonight to talk about this plan and to start selling it, because he wants this bill on his desk.
HH: And is the bill as currently written going to make it through the Rules Committee and through the floor? Or will you need significant amendments before it does that?
SS: There are other changes that are being made. I wouldn’t call them significant. Nobody’s rewriting this bill. There are some final tweaks that people want to do a little bit differently than the current bill, and we’re working on those right now, and obviously, everything you change, you know, if you add five people here, if you lose five more people on the other side, it doesn’t help you. Any change that’s being made is being made in a way that makes sure you continue saving families’ money on their premiums. It can’t jack up premiums or the cost of health care. And so we’re working through all of those right now with the President.
HH: Thank you, thank you, Steve. I hope, Steve Scalise, the one thing you’ll take away and noodle on, tax those companies that do not offer at least one policy that is a catastrophic coverage policy. Just make them put those on the market. That’s the answer to most Americans’ needs
SS: I agree, and look, I believe in the free market, too. There are a lot of companies that want to write those kind of policies. They’re not allowed to under law right now from Obamacare. Let’s get rid of those laws that are crushing the free market and jacking up costs for families.
HH: And you can use tax policy and get through reconciliation to do that. Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, always great to talk to you, thank you, Representative. Go forth and legislate.
End of interview.