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Democrats Promise A Bruising Senate Battle Over Health Care

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The Senate is now the center of the fight over health care in America. That's where the House bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act is headed, and it's already sowing deep divisions among Republicans. Several Senate Republicans have said they will ignore the House version of the bill and write their own instead. And for their part, Democrats are promising a bruising battle. On the line now is Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.

Good morning, Senator.

DEBBIE STABENOW: Well, good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You've announced you'll, quote, "strongly oppose this Republican plan in the Senate." Can you tell me how?

STABENOW: Well, no question. And let me just say that in your news report you were just talking about Warren Buffett - that big tax cut that he would get under this plan would be paid for by taking away nursing home care for seniors, raising dramatically the prices on insurance for other seniors that were below age 65 - that's why AARP is so strongly opposed to it. It would, in Michigan, affect over 2.3 million people who now are able to take their children to the doctor because of Medicaid insurance rather than into the emergency room. And I'm...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Senator...

STABENOW: Yes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...There clearly are problems with the bill. The Republican senators have said that they will make changes. But what exactly will you do to oppose this bill?

STABENOW: Well, I'm going to speak out like I am today. All of my colleagues are. We're going to do what we did the first time around. You know, they - the day after we were sworn in in January, they started this process. And the good news is, is that even though they passed a resolution saying that they would do the repeal by January 27, they haven't been able to do it, and that's because of Women's Marches and people speaking out and town hall meetings and everything that's happened. So we're going to continue to speak out and to engage the public, let them know what this is really all about, funding big tax cuts on the backs of people that need medical care.

And at the same time, I do want to stress that we want - if the Republicans are willing to just put this in the garbage can, we are willing and want to sit down and talk about how to make insurance better, how to lower costs. There are premiums and co-pays that are too high. Certainly there are drug prices that are too high. So we need to sit down together and focus on ways to make health care more affordable and more available but not rip apart the entire health care system and put more than 24 million people in a situation where they can't get health care and health insurance.

So bottom line, I mean, we're going to speak out - we know that if they want to, they've set up a process. It only takes 51 votes, and the Republicans can pass this in the Senate if they want to. They can. They can pass it this week if they want to. But we're going to speak out in the loudest way possible. On Wednesday, I am chairing a hearing that we've put together through a Democratic policy committee to hear directly from citizens as well as a CEO in Michigan who is the CEO of a small world hospital...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Senator...

STABENOW: ...That would likely close.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Senator, just briefly - we don't have much more time - but when your Republican colleagues were in the minority, Democrats complained that they were just obstructionists, always blocking everything. Now that your party is in the minority, Republicans say that you've adopted the same tactic. I'm just curious, how long is the Senate going to let American health care - the American health care system just limp along? I mean, is there something that...

STABENOW: Well, first of all...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...We can do?

STABENOW: First of all, let me say, you're buying the assumption that it's limping along when we have tens of millions of more people today that can get health insurance. Do you know because of passing Obamacare, 97 percent of the children in Michigan can now see a doctor? That's actually a really good thing. Our state, because they expanded Medicaid, health care is going to save over $400 million in their budget because people are going to the doctor, not the emergency room.

So their premise - and they've done everything they can to undermine the reimbursements to insurance companies, to scare insurance companies off, to do everything they can to undermine this system - I don't - I wish they'd put half that energy into helping us make it better. But it is not true that we are looking at a situation that is completely, you know, unraveling. They're unraveling it. Let's work together to make it better.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thank you, Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan.

STABENOW: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.