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Senator John Thune from South Dakota on Obamacare prospects

Tuesday, September 1, 2009
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HH: Joined now by United States Senator John Thune from the great state of South Dakota. Senator Thune, always a pleasure, welcome.

JT: Nice to be with you, Hugh.

HH: What do you sense throughout this August about the prospects for Obamacare when you return to Washington next week?

JT: Fading quickly. I think it’s on life support. There just seems to be an awful lot of resistance, as I’m sure you’ve observed, Hugh. I’ve had a number of town hall meetings here in South Dakota on the subject of health care, and I think people, they just don’t trust the government to do this, and they have good reasons. So I think that if members of Congress are hearing what I am hearing, that this is going to be a pretty heavy lift for the Democrat leadership and for the President to try and get this government plan through Congress when we return.

HH: Now should opponents relax? We’ve been running a Free Our Health Care petition at Hughhewitt.com with the National Center for Policy Analysis. It’s got about 1.2 million signatures. We’re bringing those to D.C. in a couple of weeks. But I sense that maybe some opponents of Obamacare are beginning to relax.

JT: Well, I think that’s true, and they shouldn’t. They should keep, the pressure needs to stay on, because these next few months are critical. I mean, these next few months are critical. I mean, these next few months are going to shape the direction not only of health care, but I would argue since health care represents one sixth of the American economy, of America’s economy and our pathway going forward, because there are a lot of people in Congress, both in the House and the Senate, who’s holy grail is a single payer system along the lines of a European or Canadian model, and they’re going to do everything they can to get us there. And if the American people back off for a minute or hesitate and think this is won, they’re making a big mistake, because these guys, this is their agenda, and the only thing right now that’s slowing it down is that the American people have engaged and are making their voices heard. And so they should continue that.

HH: Now Senator Thune, you’re in the Republican leadership in the Senate, and I know you must be following closely the statements of Senator Reid and others about using the reconciliation process, which I’ve explained again and again to this audience, so you don’t have to worry about the tall grass here. Do you think they would dare go through with that?

JT: Well, you know, I think that their, they want this badly enough that it’s possible. You know, I mean, I think in the end that cooler head will prevail, and the President will try and get this thing back on the rails. And if he tries to do this through reconciliation, obviously a lot of us are going to go ballistic, and hopefully the American people will, too, because when you’re talking about something this consequential, you shouldn’t circumvent legislative process and procedure to do it, and use this obscure provision to do something that has these kinds of wide-ranging policy implications. And so I don’t think they will, but I don’t, I wouldn’t put anything outside the realm of possibility, which is why again, your listeners out there need to stay engaged on this. You cannot afford to take a break.

HH: Now in terms of how it would work, I thought reconciliation had to present a balanced budget matter, that even if they jammed it through the keyhole, which is wrong to do, if they did, they’d still have to show that it wasn’t adding to the deficit. How can they possibly do that with this?

JT: Well, they’ve talked about this sort of divided approach where they do the reconciliation, there are certain things that are allowable, and there are certain things that we could raise points of order against, and to waive a point of order takes sixty votes. So the theory is if they attempted to do that, they would do the revenue portion of it, the tax increases and the Medicare cuts and that sort of thing with 51 votes through reconciliation, but they would try and accomplish the policy aspects of it through regular order, and that would be sort of a sidecar that would carry all the policy, and the revenue pieces of it would be done under reconciliation. There is a way they can do this. And so if the will is there, there is a way they can do it, and that’s why I think we have to be constantly engaged in making it clear that this is not an acceptable pathway to accomplish something of this magnitude and this consequence for America and for our economy.

HH: In the last week in an attempt to send a message to Harry Reid, Senator Thune, more than 6,000 people have sent $10 dollar contributions to one of his opponents in Nevada, Danny Tarkanian, in an effort to say shove Obamacare. Are you sensing the same kind of grass roots? You’re up for re-election.

JT: Right.

HH: Are people motivated to help you get re-elected and to elect other Republicans because of this?

JT: There’s a lot more energy and a lot more intensity out there than I have seen in a long time, and I think that they’re seeing that in places like Nevada, and I think that yeah, we’re feeling it out here in South Dakota, too. I had a town hall meeting on Friday in Rapid City, primarily the focus being health care, and we had over five hundred people turn out. And there is just tremendous interest and energy out there, and I think that it’s going to be felt next year in the 2010 mid-term elections.

HH: Are people…I mean, you’re got colleagues across the aisle. Are they looking over their shoulders? I mean, if you’re Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas right now, or Harry Reid in Nevada, you’ve got to be worried.

JT: Well, I think you do, especially in states like those, because those are states that tend to be, I mean, I would…Nevada, obviously, arguably purple, Arkansas, I think, more right of center, more of a red state. But those are states where you’ve got constituencies that tend to be conservative people, don’t like big government, don’t like big expansions, are very wary of Washington politicians running their lives, and are really concerned about these deficits the country is carrying.

HH: Senator John Thune, always a pleasure, look forward to talking to you again soon from South Dakota.

End of interview.

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