Texas Senator John Cornyn joined me this morning to discuss prospects for the Senate GOP’s healthcare bill:
HH: Joined now by United States Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the number two ranking Republican in the Senate. Good morning, Senator, thank you for joining me.
JC: Thanks, Hugh.
HH: The Wall Street Journal today reports that Democrats have refused to return a single blue slip to the Judiciary Committee, which has the effect of blocking consideration of judicial nominees from their home states. Is that true?
JC: I am not aware of that. I know there is some slowdown in some of the states where there are two Democratic senators, but Senator Grassley has made it clear that if there is complete non-cooperation and intransigence, he’ll consider that an exception to the blue slip policy, and we’ll see those nominees confirmed.
HH: I can’t urge you enough, because there are only, there are fourteen nominees still to be made, but of the six that have been made, we ought to at least get hearings on them moving forward. And so do you believe the Senate will move before August to have hearings scheduled on these nominees that have been sent forward?
JC: I believe we will. Obviously, there’s not a lot of time between now and then, but I know this is a matter of utmost urgency to Senator McConnell, the majority leader, as well as the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and really, to the rank and file members of our party. We recognize this is one of the most important things that we could do.
HH: Last question, Senator, I don’t believe in blue slips at all, period, but at least not for circuit courts. Do you agree with me on that?
JC: I believe that it should not be an obstacle to hearings and confirmation by the party that won the election. My only hesitation here, Hugh, is I think there should be some good faith communication with home state senators, but we shouldn’t give them a veto. So that would be where I would say the line should be drawn.
HH: Thank you, Senator. Now I had James Lankford and Tom Cotton on earlier today. Both are optimistic that the Senate Republicans will pass a health care bill. Do you share that optimism about next week’s vote?
JC: I am optimistic. I think we could continue discussing this and debating it into the future, but we really need to make a decision for a number of reasons. One is we promised we would do this when we got in the majority. We’re in the majority. We have the White House. And we need to keep our commitments. Secondly, we know the individual insurance market is in meltdown, and it needs to be stabilized. And people are hurting from high premiums and high deductibles that they can’t afford under Obamacare. We also know that there’s concern about getting premiums lower, which is one of the things that we want to do by deregulating the over-regulation mandates of Obamacare. We want to protect people with preexisting conditions and essentially maintain current protections. But the other thing that is really not heralded enough is our first opportunity in a generation or more to do entitlement reform by putting Medicaid on a sustainable budget, which right now is uncapped and unsustainable.
HH: I think it’s a moral imperative and a political imperative to act.
HH: And so I want to know, the issues that occur to me, the Medicaid inflator, the 3.8% tax rollback, the amount of aid to opioid dependence in rural health care systems, that these are all negotiated issues. Those are split the difference issues. And the Cruz amendment, some form of it, is a split the difference issue. What is the biggest obstacle to 50 votes, Senator Cornyn?
JC: Well, I think you’ve identified the major areas, Hugh. The major obstacle is the scheduling, the lack of scheduling of votes. We, Senator McConnell tried to get this done before the 4th of July break, and we had senators, enough senators saying they would not proceed to get on the bill until they had more time. They’ve had more time now, and I think it’s time for us to vote. This is really a test of our majority, and whether we’re going to keep our commitments to the American people that we’ve made the last three or four elections.
HH: Can you give me some news on which Medicaid inflator is going to be in the bill that Senator McConnell unveils?
JC: Well, as you know, the House provision had consumer price index medical plus one. And there’s been a lot of debate led by Senator Toomey, Senator Cotton and others to try to get that down to CPI urban, which is a slightly lower rate, recognizing that out into the future that that is going to save a lot of money. And I think the House bill itself would have saved almost $800 billion dollars over ten years without kicking anybody who’s currently on Medicaid off Medicaid and allowing a long term transition from those states that expanded, and equalizing treatment with those who did not. But one of the other things, Hugh…
HH: But which rate do you think is going to be in the bill, Senator?
JC: You know, I don’t know where we’re going to end up. I personally would be satisfied with any of those rates, because I think it represents a first and maybe the only opportunity to do entitlement reform for a long, long time.
HH: Well, what about the 3.8% tax? Is that going to stay in place in the final bill that Senator McConnell puts forward?
JC: There is some discussion about that. I think some people are concerned about the optics of that, and whether, how that interacts with tax reform. I think whether it’s done in the context of health care or tax reform, that’s going to be on the table and a negotiable item.
HH: So I wouldn’t be wrong to conclude the 3.8% is staying as of right now?
JC: I wouldn’t be able to make a guarantee one way or the other.
HH: Are you leaning towards you think that’s the way it’s, I’m trying to get some news here, Senator.
JC: (laughing) Well, I just don’t, we know the Democrats are going to beat us about the head and shoulders, claiming that you know, we cut taxes for the rich and cut Medicaid for the poor. We know their talking points. And I’m not convinced that if we were to eliminate that, that it would change the rhetoric. So I think we just need to take a look at the whole equation.
HH: I don’t think I got an answer out of you, Senator Cornyn (laughing).
HH: Senator John Cornyn, good luck next week. We’ve got to pass this bill. I think the 3.8% is staying. I’m not sure. We’ll find out next week. Thank you, Senator Cornyn.
End of interview.