Senator Bill Cassidy joined me this morning:
HH: I’m joined by Senator Bill Cassidy of the great state of Louisiana. Dr. Cassidy, welcome back, always good to have you on the program.
BC: Hey, Hugh, thank you for having me.
HH: Now I know you’re not a member of Armed Services or Intel, but the Senate’s a small place. What do you hear about the possibility of strikes on Syria?
BC: I mean, people think that Syria has crossed not just a red line, but a triple red line. And if you put that in, if you connect that to what the Russians poisoning the person and his daughter in England, but not just poisoning them, but spreading poison in pubs and other public places, it shows a disregard by Syria and Russia. I think there has to be a price to pay.
HH: Now yesterday, your colleague, Mike Rounds, said the strikes on Syria this time should be regime-threatening. Last time, they were retaliation, this time, regime-threatening. Do you agree with Senator Rounds?
BC: I don’t know what he means by regime-threatening, but I do recall that when Reagan lobbed a missile into Qaddafi’s tent, Qaddafi quickly, that mattered a lot more to him than us shooting down a couple of jets. And so when people feel personally threatened, whether their regime or their life or their family, they tend to behave a little bit better than if they’re just discarding one of their citizens.
HH: So are you suggesting targeting the palaces?
BC: Well, certainly putting, just to put on notice that we know where you are and we can hit you. I imagine that Assad sleeps in a bomb shelter. But still, I just recall Qaddafi. Qaddafi changed his actions after the bomb hit his tent.
HH: Now it seems to me that there are a lot more assets going there. Not only did the Harry Truman leave Norfolk yesterday, but the Brits’ nuclear subs are headed there. The French are sending their destroyers. The French are emphasizing they have planes in Cypress. This doesn’t look like a one-off to me, Senator. What do you hear inside your very small chamber?
BC: You know, they’ve not told us anything that would be of a classified nature, but people for a long time have been advocating no-fly zones. And so if you ground their air force, there would be no more chemical attacks. So, but again, that is me just conjecturing. It is nothing that is being rumored or said in classified briefings.
HH: A couple more questions on this. I want to move on to Admiral Jackson and your transparency bill. Second order effects are what General Mattis’ chief of staff once warned me when General Mattis was the commander of the 1st MEF in Camp Pendleton, second order effects being things you don’t expect civilians, because you’re dummies. And so the second order effects, a retired USMC general told me about, look in the Baltics. Look in Ukraine if Russia gets pushed, and if Russians get killed. And of course, the Iranians have got people on the ground there. They can push back all over the world. They’re terrorists. It’s a terrorist state. What do you think are the second order effects we have to worry about if we strike Syria?
BC: You’ve seen second order effects before where a wave of Syrian refugees were unleashed and went through Turkey into Europe, destabilizing, frankly, kind of democratically-elected orders. Angela Merkel is still dealing with the fallout. But clearly, they could unleash another tide of refugees intermingled with people that would go and strike havoc upon the European continent. So I think that’s the one that history tells us they may try and do. And I’m sure people are preparing for it.
HH: Last question, the Brits are full of, in their newspapers, stories about the S-400 Russian system, how lethal it is, it’s the Iron Dome of Syria. They want to test it against our missiles. Are we on the cusp of a Cuban Missile Crisis and we don’t even know it, a genuine confrontation with Russia, with Russians shooting at Americans and Americans shooting at Russians?
BC: That has already occurred. There was an internet, there’s a radio intercept on the internet where Russian mercenaries, but they’re communicating with Russian command, attacked a U.S. base. I didn’t know you could say the F word in Russian, but they say it over and over again, because our fellows destroyed them. And the Russians are saying we’re unprepared. They’re coming after us. We’re not, they’re all around us. And the Russians lost 200 people. It’s already occurred. We’ve got to keep from escalating too much, absolutely, but we would be naïve to think that if we play nice, the Russians play nicer.
HH: So taking out the S-400s possibly with stealth aircraft does not worry you about an escalating conflict somewhere else with the Bear?
BC: Clearly, we have to worry about that. But Russia is a declining country. The only way they’re financing their GDP is by selling national assets. They’re a commodity-based country. The more that we sell natural gas into the world market, the more we undermine them. This is their last kind of gasp before I think they begin going into demographic oblivion. We have to be prepared for them. But long term, I think the U.S. can address it.
HH: All right, let me turn to your chairmanship, or your service on the Veterans Affairs Committee. Admiral Ronny Jackson – is he going to be confirmed? And if so, when?
BC: Well, I spoke to Chairman Isakson yesterday, but did not ask about when there might be a hearing scheduled. I’m sure he will be, have a hearing, and probably every Democrat will vote against him. I’ve not met the man. I’ve not even looked at his resume except what the press has. So I’ll just withhold judgment.
HH: Secretary Pompeo, Secretary-Designate Pompeo has his hearing today. Do you expect any problem getting the Secretary of State confirmed and quickly, because we need a Secretary of State right now?
BC: We do, but some people say that those who oppose Haspel to be the head of CIA will vote against Pompeo being head of Secretary of State, because otherwise, the vacancy is not created. I don’t know that. That’s just kind of the rumor. And folks obviously on the left and some on the right don’t like Haspel, so, even though the Obama administration kept her on. So there’s a second order effect, going back to what you said earlier, Hugh, a second order effect taking place here.
HH: I still can’t believe that red state Democrats like your colleague, Heidi Heitkamp, who’s fighting for her political life in North Dakota, or Joe Donnelly in Indiana, are going to vote against the imminently qualified…and doubt in your mind that Mike Pompeo is qualified to be Secretary of State?
BC: No doubt whatsoever. I mean, the guy’s academic record, his Congressional record, his character, you can go down the list. He has what it takes.
HH: Now let me turn to, a lot of people will find this that we’re talking about legislation to be other worldly, but yesterday, Rob Portman tweeted out a picture of the President signing the SESTA Act that Rob Portman…it is possible to get, that’s a human trafficking act, it’s possible to get legislation even through a 2018 Congress. And you want to get some legislation through on transparency. What’s that about, Dr. Cassidy?
BC: Yeah, so have you ever gone to the doctor or gotten an x-ray, and you get a bill six weeks later and you look at the bill and you think what? How could it have cost that much?
BC: Wouldn’t it have been great if you had known the price beforehand, and you could say huh, a little expensive here, I’ll go down the street. Even better, you have an app. You could scan the barcode. Then you know before you go to the place how expensive it is. We’re trying to put in legislation that everybody paying cash would know the price of something before they have it done as opposed to find out six weeks later.
HH: Well, that seems way too common sense, Dr.
HH: You know, I tell the story, I had an epidural at a PRP for my screwed up back two years ago at Christmas, and I came back and found a bill for $28,000 dollars which I couldn’t check on for three to…and then I learned it was not the real bill. They just submit it to the insurance company and see what they pay, and that I was guaranteed a, you know, a much lower payment. I just thought to myself at that point this system is really messed up.
BC: So Hugh, think about it. If you did not have insurance, but had not pre-negotiated, you’re paying cash, you haven’t pre-negotiated, and you don’t have insurance, you would have been charged $28,000 dollars. You would not have gotten the insurance discount. And that’s a bad thing. People who try and do the right thing or people who have health savings accounts, or people who are in $6,000 dollar deductibles, they get stuck with that big bill. And we’ve got, and those are typically middle income folks, lower income folks. They are the ones we have to protect. But it’s going to benefit all Americans as well. Let’s know the price beforehand.
HH: So do you have bipartisan support for transparency in pricing, because transparency in pricing is actually the first thing that has to happen for markets to work.
BC: Yes, absolutely. In fact, we have, we just sent out a letter to stakeholders – three Democrats, three Republicans in the Senate. We got about 1,000 pages of replies from 134 different people. And then we have Democrats and Republicans on the House side who are interested. And as soon as I tell somebody getting that procedure or something done through the health care system should be like buying an airplane ticket. You log on, you know where you want to go, the time you wish to go. And if you don’t like the price, you pick another time, you pick another place. Why can’t we do that when we get our MRI? Now when I explain it like that, people sign on.
HH: That happened with drugs.
HH: You know, that happened with drugs like two decades ago. Pharmacies started to tell their prices, and boy, did the prices come down.
BC: So this big push on price transparency, now CVS is going to, is saying that they’re going to put the price of drugs into the electronic medical record, and to the pharmacist, and he can choose between four or five different drugs. Just the emphasis is bringing people back to it. That’s a good thing.
HH: Dr. Cassidy, good luck in that, Senator. I appreciate it. Good luck in getting Pompeo through as well. And I appreciate you taking time with me this morning. Thank you, Senator.
End of interview.