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GOP Rep. Mike Kelly On Health Care Bill: 'I Do Not Feel Defeated'

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Right. Congressman Mike Kelly is a Republican from Pennsylvania. He had supported the Republican health care bill. He joins us now. Welcome to the program, Congressman.

MIKE KELLY: Thank you, Audie. Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So you've probably come out of this conference meeting - right? - with your other members. What did the speaker tell you about why this bill finally got pulled?

KELLY: I think pretty much what you just reported - that the speaker met with the president today. He went down to have lunch, and he advised the president that they didn't have the votes. We didn't have the votes to pass it. And I think the president wanted a vote today. He said it's time to make a move, and you can't sit back forever.

And but he told the president what he thought he should do, and the president - I - he must have told him, said, OK, fine, Mr. Speaker, I agree with you. I just found out. I mean - and our conference only lasted - it was less - I would say 60 to - maybe 60 seconds, maybe 90 seconds.

CORNISH: You sound shocked, frankly, Congressman Kelly.

KELLY: No, you know, no, I'm not shocked. And I got to tell you. Am I disappointed? Yes, I'm absolutely disappointed. The other thing is, I do not feel defeated. And I've always been - I've been down here for six years, but I'm from the private sector. We always face hurdles. We always face obstacles. We always face these things that - they're right in front of you. You've got to handle them.

I think we can come back. I don't know where we come back for this 'cause I'm not in on the strategy. But I will say this. This really disappoints me because it looks like the perfect is always the enemy of the good. We just can't take a partial victory. We've got to have it all, or we just can't go with it. And...

CORNISH: And you sound like you're alluding to especially some conservative members, members of the House Freedom Caucus who went back and forth with the White House quite a bit, asking for more and more and in the end couldn't reach a deal.

KELLY: Yeah, I don't know that it's just the Freedom Caucus. I think there's more people than the Freedom Caucus. But I do think there were people that had concerns. The one thing that I am disappointed in - I've been here for six years. For six years, we had nobody in the House or the White House that would talk to us. This is a president that fully engaged with everyone that said, I'm not quite there yet, and I need to have somebody address my concerns.

The speaker of the House has worked tirelessly. The president has worked tirelessly to meet those demands and to somehow try to accommodate those demands and say, listen; are we close to where you need to be. And apparently no matter what the speaker did, no matter what the president did, we couldn't get people there.

My disappointment is, when we didn't have somebody in the White House, when we didn't have a majority in the Senate and we - we had a majority in the House when I first got here. But it just - it seemed we should be able to do this now. This should not be that difficult...

CORNISH: And yet, we're hearing essentially...

KELLY: ...For Republicans, but I...

CORNISH: Let me interrupt for a second, Congressman...

KELLY: Sure.

CORNISH: ...'Cause we are hearing essentially that some people are saying, we're done - no more Affordable Care Act repeal. This is over. Let's move on. Are you done?

KELLY: No, I can't be done, and I'll tell you why I can't be done. I go home every weekend, and when I see people that have a card but don't have coverage, when I see people that have a plan but know that it's always going to be out-of-pocket for them, I'm still in the private sector. We do supply health care for our associates.

CORNISH: But did you get a sense they're actually going to bring another bill? I mean it's one thing for you to want it, but...

KELLY: No, no, I know, but you asked me...

CORNISH: ...It doesn't mean it's on the way.

KELLY: ...How I felt about it.

CORNISH: Yeah.

KELLY: I'm giving you my feelings, and I think when we go to conference, if enough people get on board with it, that would help leadership make a - maybe change their plans. But I just don't know because I'm not at that level...

CORNISH: Right

KELLY: ...Where the strategy and the decisions are made. I'm just telling you what Americans feel. I'm not even talking about Republicans. That's - the issue for me is not Republicans and Democrats. It's not a blue vote or a red vote. It's the fact that the American people told us on November the 8th they were fed up with the way Washington worked and the status quo. And I think today kind of confirmed again in their minds the status quo always seems to be the status quo. I'm just - that's not acceptable to me, and I'm not going to stop working for it.

The people that sent me to represent them expect me to fight for them every single day and not to fold and go home and say, well, I didn't get my way, and I don't want to do it - no.

CORNISH: So does this...

KELLY: I'm going to continue to fight for it. I do it in my personal life. I would never ever come here to represent 705,687 back in Pennsylvania's 3rd District and say, it was just too hard to get done. That's not the way Pennsylvania is, and that's not the way I was raised. That's not the way the town I grew up in operates, and it's certainly not the way America has worked over the years. We have to find a way to come together and get these things done for the people that we serve.

CORNISH: And Congressman, I'm going to stop here because we're about to hear House Speaker Paul Ryan.

KELLY: Thanks, Audie. Good being with you.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PAUL RYAN: We came really close today, but we came up short. I spoke to the president just a little while ago, and I told him that the best thing I think to do is to pull this bill, and he agreed with that decision. I will not sugarcoat this. This is a disappointing day for us. Doing big things is hard. All of us, all of us, myself included - we will need time to reflect on how we got to this moment, what we could have done to do it better. But ultimately this all kind of comes down to a choice. Are all of us willing to give a little to get something done? Are we willing to say yes to the good - to the very good even if it's not the perfect because if we're willing to do that, we still have such an incredible opportunity in front of us.

There remains so much that we can do to help improve people's lives, and we will because that's - I got to tell you; that's why I'm here. And I know it's why every member of this conference is here - to make this a better country. We want American families to feel more confident in their lot in life. We want the next generation to know that, yes, the best days of this country are still ahead of us.

I'm really proud of the bill that we produced. It would make a dramatic improvement in our health care system and provide relief by people hurting under Obamacare. And what's probably most troubling is the worst is yet to come with Obamacare.

I'm also proud of the long, inclusive, member-driven process that we had. Any member who wanted to engage constructively to offer ideas, to improve this bill, they could. And I want to thank so many members who helped make this bill better. A lot of our members put a lot of hard work into this.

I also want to thank the president. I want to thank the vice president. I want to thank Tom Price, Mick Mulvaney and the entire White House team. The president gave his all in this effort. He did everything he possibly could to help people see the opportunity that we had with this bill. He's really been fantastic.

Still, we've got to do better, and we will. I absolutely believe that. This is a setback - no two ways about it. But it is not the end of the story because I know that every man and woman in this conference is now motivated more than ever to step up our game to deliver on our promises. I know that everyone is committed to seizing this incredible opportunity that we have, and I sure am.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Mr. Speaker, two questions on (inaudible). One is - you talked about real people. Now you've got a law on the books (inaudible) Affordable Care Act that you guys don't like, the White House doesn't like.

CORNISH: We're listening to House Speaker Paul Ryan holding a news conference after telling the public that the Republicans have pulled their health care bill.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

RYAN: Yeah, this is the problem. I worry - the question is, as we kind of prop it along and try and prop it up, it is so fundamentally flawed. I don't know that that is possible. What we're really worried about is - and you've heard me say this all along - is the coming premium increases that are coming with a death-spiraling health care system. That is my big concern.

We just didn't quite get consensus today. What we have is a member-driven process to try and get consensus. We came very close, but we did not get that consensus. That's why I thought the wise thing to do is not proceed with a vote but to pull the bill and see what we can do. But I don't think the law as it is fashioned or anything close to it is really going to be able to survive.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Will you work on legislation now to try to (inaudible).

RYAN: We'll see. We're going to go back and figure out what the next steps are - yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Can you explain (inaudible) conservatives of the Freedom Caucus who effectively (inaudible) your predecessor, John Boehner? Are they responsible for the defeat here today?

RYAN: Well, I don't want to cast blame. There is a block of no votes that we had that is why this didn't pass. They were a sufficient number of votes that prevented it from passing, and they didn't change their votes. We were close. Some of the members of that caucus were voting with us, but not enough were. And therefore - and I met with their chairman earlier today, and he made it clear to me that the votes weren't going to be there from their team. And that was sufficient to provide the votes - the balance to not have this bill pass.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Mr. Speaker, you all swept the House, won the majority with the promise to repeal Obamacare, the majority of the Senate with the...

RYAN: That's right.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: ...Promise to repeal Obamacare, the White House with the promise to repeal Obamacare. How do you go home to your constituents and send all of your members home to their constituents saying, you know what? It's not even a hundred days into the administration. Sorry, folks, we just can't figure it out.

RYAN: Dana (ph), it's a really good question. I wish I had a better answer for you. I really believe that Obamacare is a law that's collapsing. It's hurting families. It's not working. It was designed in a fundamentally flawed way. We believe this bill is the best way to go, but we just didn't quite get the consensus to get there.

(CROSSTALK)

RYAN: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Two questions for you, if you don't mind. Number one - the bottom line is Obamacare right now remains...

RYAN: That's right.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: ...The law of the land. Is that going to change in 2017?

RYAN: Yeah, I don't know what else to say other than Obamacare is the law of the land. It's going remain the law of the land until it's replaced. We did not have quite the votes to replace this law. And so yeah, we're going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future. I don't know how long it's going to take us to replace this law. My worry is Obamacare is going to be getting even worse.

Actually I think we were probably doing the Democrats a favor. I think we were doing the architects of Obama a favor by passing this law before it gets even worse. Well, I guess that favor's not going to be given to them, and it's going to get worse. And so I don't think the architects of Obamacare - I'm sure they may be pleased right now, but when they see how bad this thing gets based on all the projections we're being told by the plans that are participating in Obamacare, I don't think they're going to like that either.

Look; five states - you got one plan left, one choice. Over a third of the counties in America - one plan left. And the kinds of projections we're being told from the people providing health insurance to these people plans it's going to get even worse. And so I don't think the architects of Obamacare envisioned this future. It's certainly not one we want for the American people, and I wish we had the kind of consensus we needed to bring a bill to the floor to pass and replace it. But we just don't have that right now.

(CROSSTALK)

RYAN: Chad (ph) - no, Chad.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: What about, though, the political capital that was burned (inaudible). You had to keep the government open for about five weeks (inaudible). I know you say that this is - this part was (inaudible)...

RYAN: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: How much capital did you burn on this today, and how does that potentially injure those other bills?

RYAN: I think our members know we did everything we could to get consensus. This is how governing works when you're in the majority. We need to get 216 people to agree with each other to write legislation, not 210, not 215. We need 216 people in the House to agree with each other on how to write a piece of legislation. We didn't have 216 people. We were close, but we did not have 216 people. And that's how legislating works.

And so now we're going to move on with the rest of our agenda because we have big, ambitious plans to improve people's lives in this country. We want to secure the border. We want to rebuild our military. We want to get the deficit under control. We want infrastructure, and we want tax reform.

The last question you asked me about tax reform, Chad - yes, this does make tax reform more difficult, but it does not in any way make it impossible. We will proceed with tax reform. We will continue with tax reform. That's an issue I know quite a bit about. I used to run that committee. I spoke with the president, the Treasury secretary and his economic advisers earlier today about tax reform, so we are going to proceed with tax reform.

This makes it clearly more difficult. You know how the numbers work. It's about a trillion dollars. But that just means the Obamacare taxes stay with Obamacare. We're going to go fix the rest of the tax code.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Inaudible).

RYAN: I don't think so. I don't think this is prologue for other future things because members realize there are other parts of our agenda that people have even more agreement on on what to achieve. We have even more agreement on the need and the nature of tax reform on funding the government, on rebuilding the military and securing the border. This issue had a big difference of opinion not whether we should repeal and replace Obamacare but just how we should replace it. And that is the growing pains of governing.

We were a 10-year opposition party where being against things was easy to do. You just had to be against it. And now in three months' time, we try to go to a governing party where we actually have to get 216 people to agree with each other on how we do things. And we weren't just quite there today. We will get there, but we weren't there today - yeah.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

And that was House Speaker Paul Ryan speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill about his decision to pull the bill on the Republicans' replacement for Obamacare. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.