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Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine On GOP Attempts To Revise Obamacare


The latest Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act appears to be dead this morning. Susan Collins, Maine's Republican senator, said she would not vote for the Graham-Cassidy bill. And that effectively kills the bill's chances of passing. Collins came out against it after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office weighed in and said the bill would leave millions more Americans uninsured. So what happens now?

Well, let's bring in Senator Tim Kaine. He's a Democrat from Virginia. He sits on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, known as HELP. Senator, good morning.

TIM KAINE: Good morning, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So let me start with that basic question. What does happen now? Is there any path forward for this bill, the Graham-Cassidy bill?

KAINE: We can't assume it's over till we get to the end of the week and the bill's been defeated because they are trying to maneuver and find new people to support it. But what the CBO score yesterday told us is that all the versions of Graham-Cassidy, no matter how they tweak them, take health insurance away from millions of people. By taking money out of the Affordable Care Act, they'll increase premiums. And they cut Medicaid.

The bill cuts Medicaid in a very dramatic way. Over 50 percent of Medicaid recipients in Virginians are kids. That's why this bill is so bad for Virginians and bad for Americans. And we have to defeat it.

KELLY: And before we move on to some other elements of what the path forward might look like, let me just lay out - Republicans say they are casting around, trying to find - scrounge up more votes on this. But is there any way forward now that Senator Collins says she's out?

KAINE: It's challenging because enough have said, we're not voting yes under any circumstances. But you know, if they can rewrite the bill to really help one state, then there's possibility they could peel somebody off. So that's why, you know, we have to be so diligent. I'm taking the floor to do a floor speech today. I've got a group of Virginia parents with disabled kids coming in to see me to talk about it. We need to keep the pressure on till we know this bill really is dead and then move to the next step, which is finding bipartisan fixes that will make health care better, not wreck it.

KELLY: Well, what is it you want to learn through holding hearings, through going through a regular process in the committee that you don't already know? I mean, is the holdup here a lack of knowledge, a lack of facts, or is it complete partisan gridlock?

KAINE: Well, I think it's a lack of listening. So I have a bill in - a reinsurance bill to create a federal reinsurance program, which I think will bring down premiums, give a backstop to high-risk, high-cost individuals so that they know they'll get coverage and also send a signal of stability to insurance companies. But we haven't been able to hold a hearing on the bill. And I'm sure you would get experts at a table who would point out things they like about it, things that they would want to improve about it. Bernie payers - Bernie Sanders'...

KELLY: Bernie Sanders, yeah.

KAINE: ...single-payer bill is in the committee as well. He's introduced the bill. But that bill should be given scrutiny in the committee for its pluses and minuses. If Graham-Cassidy want to have their bill analyzed in a normal committee process, great, then that can be contemplated as well. What you get when you let the committee work is you get witnesses of all kinds at the table to talk about what they like, what they don't like, what can be made better.

And then our chairman, Lamar Alexander, and our ranking Democrat, Patty Murray - they've had a history of making deals on tough issues before. They could probably pull together a variety of bills and then help us find a package first to stabilize the individual insurance market and then in the long term actually improve health care rather than wreck it.

KELLY: All right, thank you so much, Senator.

KAINE: All right, thanks.

KELLY: That's Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat from Virginia and member of the Senate HELP Committee. Now, meanwhile, NPR's Geoff Bennett is in here this morning listening along. He covers Congress. And Geoff, let me put the question to you. What is the bipartisan path forward at this point?

GEOFF BENNETT, BYLINE: The bipartisan path forward at this point - and you heard Senator Kaine mentioned it briefly - is this effort backed by Senator Lamar Alexander - he is a Republican from Tennessee - and Patty Murray, the Democrat from Washington. And they worked on a compromised bill that would stabilize the insurance markets and fix the problems that exist with Obamacare. But when Graham-Cassidy came along, it robbed that effort of all the political oxygen.

So now if Graham-Cassidy fails - and we'll know for sure, I would expect, by the end of the day - there could be more interest in working that through the committees and eventually bringing it to the floor for a vote.

KELLY: Looking at the progress of another bill or not.


KELLY: All right. NPR's Geoff Bennett, thank you.

BENNETT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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