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South Dakota Senator John Thune on the timetable to repeal Obamacare

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HH: United States Senator John Thune of the great state of South Dakota, in the GOP leadership in the Senate, joins me now. Senator Thune, happy 4th of July a day in advance.

JT: Happy 4th to you, Hugh.

HH: And I’ve got to ask you your reaction upon hearing the Supreme Court’s decision last week.

JT: Well, I mean, I was, like a lot of people I think, disappointed. I had hoped that they were going to at least throw out the individual mandate, maybe the whole thing. But you know, their ruling, their decision doesn’t change the fact that the mandate, the taxes, the higher costs that are included in Obamacare are bad for America and they need to be repealed. So if nothing else, I think it clarified what our job is, hopefully, after we elect a new president and a Republican Senate.

HH: If in fact, and you’re in the leadership, Mitt Romney is President Romney in a few months, in January of 2013, and you’ve got 51 Republican votes, and Leader McConnell is there in the United States Senate, how quickly will you be able to repeal, lock, stock and barrel, of Obamacare?

JT: Well, my hope would be that if we do have a majority in the Senate, and a President Romney, that we’ll be able to repeal this thing, pull it out by the roots, and start over, which is what we should have done in the first place, and not with a 2,700 page bill that people don’t support, that was filled with backroom deals. I mean, you know, we’re not going to repeat the Democrats’ mistakes, but we do need to start over, and enact common sense, step-by-step reforms that will help Americans get access to care they need, but in a way that allows them to choose their doctor, and hopefully at a lower cost. The one thing we’ve seen since Obamacare went into effect, despite their assertions to the contrary, is consistently higher costs for health care coverage in this country, and that’s why we need a Republican president and a Republican Senate and a Republican House. If we’re going to do this right, it’s going to take all three components.

HH: To push the timing question a little bit, because I get calls and emails that you guys will never follow through, you take your time, you drag your heels. And I say well, I don’t think so. I think it’s a public law, blank, blank, blank shall be repealed is not a long law. How quickly can it be done, Senator Thune?

JT: Well, you know, if we come in and on Day One, President Romney, and right after the election, for that matter, in the lame duck, even, begin the process of putting in place his budget, I think he will begin the process of repealing and replacing Obamacare. And there are a lot of things, of course, that he can do, as we now know, because of this president’s efforts through executive power. He can use executive orders that allow waivers to all 50 states. I mean, there are things that can be done through the presidency, and then open the way, hopefully, through the Congress. But my view is, Hugh, and normally, you get this period after a president is sworn in where it takes a while for him to cobble together a budget. I don’t think that’s going to be the case. I think that we have enough work that’s been done, enough foundation’s been laid through the Ryan budget, through some of the other things that have been done out there, that Governor Romney can come in, submit a budget to the Congress. We should take it up, act on it, create a process called reconciliation, which I know you’re aware of, that will allow us to pass legislation, and in this case, repeal health care with 51 votes in the Senate. And so that’s one mechanism. But as I said, there are other things that the president will be able to do when he’s elected, and I think those things need to start right away.

HH: Well, I don’t want to be rude, but I know people. I know my audience. They’re listening for a date. Maybe not one that you can write in cement and put on the Capitol steps, but an idea of a sell by date by which the Republicans, if they got that, if everyone’s doing the best and fastest they can, how quickly can it be done? That’s because I think people have a false notion in their mind that you can pass that on the first day of Congress. You need a budget to use reconciliation rules, which means 51 votes in the Senate. I think that’s fair to say. But how quickly, in the best case scenario, could that be, John Thune?

JT: Well, and that’s, you’re absolutely right. I mean, you have to have a budget first, which is something the Democrats haven’t done for three years now. But if we come in, the Budget Act, there are certain timelines that we have to hit if you’re following the law. And you know, you’re looking at April 15th, May 1, May 15th, when all this has to be done by. So I guess my thing is if we have leadership in the White House, which I believe we will, and leadership that I think will lead us to fairly quick action on the budget process, then Congress, and if we hit our deadlines, pass, and we could actually have something done early next year. Now I say early. It may be we’re talking in the spring time frame, but I think given the way that Washington works, that would be a pretty significant accomplishment. But notwithstanding that, you still have as president, then-President Romney would be in position through executive order to issue waivers to all these states. And so I think there are things that could be done even until Congress gets to work repealing it. But certainly, if you follow the budget process, and the timelines that are included in it, that would call for us completing that process by sometime in the spring.

HH: Boy, that would be a disaster, politically, if it took that long. I mean, it would. It would be a nightmare.

JT: Well, I think the thing is, you know, and hopefully it can happen sooner than that, but it’s going to require Congress to work at light speed, and that starts with, of course, the budget process. And I think we can begin even at the end of the year in a lame duck session, that work. And that is assuming, of course, that we won the majority. And then when we get to January, we’re going to have a majority in the Senate. And the budget process could begin much earlier, and hopefully be completed much earlier. And I guess I’m giving you the worst case scenario, based upon what the law requires in terms of deadlines. But we ought to be able to accelerate that. And it would have to happen sooner.

HH: Yeah, the reason I balk a little bit is only because I know people are out there dying under the burdens of this thing.

JT: Yeah.

HH: And they expect, you know, the light speed for Congress is like molasses for the rest of the real world.

JT: Yeah.

HH: And so it just seems to me that after 9/11, you guys moved fast, and I would hope it would happen again. I do want to get one quick, one more question in, Senator Thune. Mitt Romney is going to Israel. What do you think of that?

JT: I think it’s great. I think it’s great. I mean, Israel is one of our greatest allies in the world, certainly in that region of the world. The relationship that we have with Israel is so important to both countries, and I welcome that trip. I think that’s a good idea.

HH: And last, the sequestration is about to kick in. There’s supposed to be a working group on the Hill. Is that something of which you are a part? And do you think that’s going to be avoided, and the Pentagon kept secure?

JT: Well, I have been to some of those meetings. There is a group that is working to try and come up with a plan. Now remember, the House Republicans in their budget came up with a way of offsetting, coming up with different ways of cutting government as opposed to doing it on the back of the Defense Department and our national security. And I hope that we can come up with a similar plan in the Senate. But again, that’s controlled by Democrats. It’s probably going to be very difficult to get something through the Senate before we hit this pileup at the end of the year. But there is a pathway there to do it. There are good people on both sides, I think, working towards that objective.

HH: Good luck with that, Senator John Thune, and a happy 4th of July.

End of interview.

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