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Republican Blake Farenthold On Changing His Position On GOP Health Care Bill

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And the other big story we are covering this morning - a moment of truth for President Trump and his party. Republicans have talked about repealing the Affordable Care Act for a long time and today comes a vote in the House on a possible replacement but it is not clear if the party will have the votes it needs. President Trump has made last minute appeals to some GOP lawmakers to come around. One member who has and plans to vote for the bill despite earlier reservations is conservative Congressman Blake Farenthold, a Republican from Texas. And I asked the Congressman, what changed his mind?

BLAKE FARENTHOLD: Well, I've - still don't believe it's the perfect solution, but one of the things I've learned in Congress is the perfect is the enemy of the doable. And this looks like the vehicle to repeal Obamacare, which is something I promised to do when I first ran in 2010, and looks like we're finally going to get around to it.

GREENE: Well, if it's not perfect, but it's gotten to a place where you can support it, was there something critical that happened that brought you there?

FARENTHOLD: Well, the president called about a dozen of us over to the White House, and he personally asked me to vote for it. They added some provisions that give more control to the states with respect to block grants and giving the states the authority to add a work requirement for able-bodied adults with no children. And, you know, we're just moving it towards a more conservative solution. The problem still remains, though, that there's a lot still to be done in these other pieces of legislation that are going to require 60 votes in the Senate. And the president said he was going to really help turn up the heat on those senators to get the 60 votes when we need them.

GREENE: But I hear you saying that he turned up the heat on you, and it worked.

FARENTHOLD: Listen, I was - I'm committed to repealing Obamacare. And the only vehicle that's going to get us there is a vehicle that the president supports and is going to sign. You know, again, nothing's perfect, but the fact that the president told me he was behind it 100 percent - actually he said 1,000 percent - and was going to be an advocate for making it better, that's what it took for me. I'm taking Donald Trump at his word.

GREENE: I understand it this week he told many Republicans that they risked losing their seats if they didn't get behind this bill. Did he say that to you?

FARENTHOLD: He said it in the House Republican Conference, and I think that's true. Every single one of us ran on repealing Obamacare, and this is the bill that's going to move forward to repeal Obamacare. I would hate to go back home and have my constituents tell me, Blake, you had the opportunity to get rid of Obamacare, and you didn't do it. Why are you still in Washington?

GREENE: I mean, if I may, that sounds like putting politics, in a way, ahead of substance. I mean, if you don't think the bill is perfect, why not spend some more time getting to a place where you feel good about a bill? This is making it sound like, you know what? I got to get rid of Obamacare. Maybe the law is not something I like, but I got to do it to make sure I keep my seat.

FARENTHOLD: Well, it's about keeping promises. The situation we're in right now is - my conservative friends and the folks in the tea party say the bill doesn't go far enough. And the more moderates, whether they're liberals back in the District or whether they're more moderate Republicans here in Washington, are saying the bill goes too far. So we really are very close to the sweet spot on this, and it's going to take some pressure from President Trump to move anything forward.

GREENE: I want to ask you about one of the specific changes that you and some of your colleagues were pleased about and helped you come around. Under the previous law, if you were getting a tax credit that was actually more than the premium you were paying, you got to keep that money and maybe put it in a health savings account. You wanted to get rid of that provision because you were worried that some people might use some of those tax credit dollars for abortions. Is that right?

FARENTHOLD: Well, there's a provision in there that was added that says you cannot use those excess dollars for an abortion. That's long-standing Republican policy. But the idea is you need to have more options available, and we're increasing the health savings account, but we don't want to do it at a point that breaks the bank.

GREENE: But if I may, as I understand, I mean, there would be relatively few people who would actually get a tax credit that was more than their premium and even far fewer people who would actually decide to use that money for an abortion. So we're talking about very few Americans here. Is that fair?

FARENTHOLD: I think the issue is whether - for those of us who are extremely pro-life, like I am, just saving one unborn baby is a big deal.

GREENE: So I'm hearing you say that a big part of this is not just making health care better for Americans, but you needed to be able to sleep at night and feel like you were supporting a law that remained true to your conservative values on issues like abortion.

FARENTHOLD: That's 100 percent correct. And again, as I say, this bill is not perfect. President Trump has said he's going to continue to work to make it better. We're treading on thin ice here in the House because we don't want to send something over to the Senate that is going to go afoul of the Byrd rule and not be able to pass with 51 votes. So we're giving them a framework, and we're counting on the president and the senators to make it even better.

GREENE: You mentioned how there are people in your party who are more conservative, who are more moderate, kind of on both sides who have some real concerns about this replacement bill. Are you talking to them? Are you going to them and saying, you know, we really should come around here? And if so, what are you telling them?

FARENTHOLD: My message to my colleagues, whether they're to the left of me or to the right of me, is you ran on repealing Obamacare. If you can show me a path that's going to get us there other than this, I want to hear it. And none of them have been able to come up with a path to getting rid of it other than this bill that the president says he's 1,000 percent behind and that's going to come up for vote.

GREENE: All right, Congressman, thanks so much for taking the time. We really appreciate it.

FARENTHOLD: Thank you very much.

GREENE: Blake Farenthold is a Republican member of Congress from Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.