Battle heats up over GOP plan to replace ObamaCare

The 'Special Report' All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," March 8, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: The markup sounds and sights from those committee hearings where the bill is actually being written and will likely be changed along the way as there is pushback, not only from Democrats but, as you heard, from Republicans.

Where are we on all this? Let's bring in our panel: Steve Hayes, editor in chief of The Weekly Standard; Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and Matt Schlapp, contributor with The Hill.

OK, Mara, the sound and fury of the pushback. But when push comes to shove at the end of this --

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I think they're going to have the votes.

BAIER: Why do you say that?

LIASSON: I think they're going to have the votes. This is really important. They can't really do much of anything else without doing this. Also Paul Ryan seems very, very confident, and he has a nice cushion in the House. He can afford to lose around 20 conservative Republicans if they don't want to vote for this.

BAIER: It's 21, I think.

LIASSON: Or it's 21. And I think he can probably pull it off. What's interesting to me is that if the president starts putting pressure on some of the conservative Republicans. He is going to Kentucky --

BAIER: Well, we think so. They're not confirming it.

LIASSON: They're not confirming it, although The Louisville Courier- Journal thinks he's coming. But he's putting pressure on Rand Paul, a big holdout in the Senate.

And then to me what's really going to be interesting is over time the way this is craft, the people whose health care costs are going to go up are people between 40 and 64, people who are too young for Medicare. And a lot of those people are Trump voters, especially in rural areas. The peoples whose costs will go down our younger millennials who won't have the mandate, and they potentially will have cheaper health care because the ratio will be changed. You will be allowed to charge older people more than you are now. So those are not Trump voters.

BAIER: The pushback is from conservatives to say this is not fully being repealed and that it leaves an entitlement state in place. The leadership is saying it's in three phases, and it seems like they had a hard time explaining it off the get-go, that there is this first part, then there's the regulatory part that Secretary Price does, then there's the other piece of legislation that deals with across the lines and other elements that are attractive to Republicans.

STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Conservatives are right in their criticism, and my colleague at "The Washington Examiner" Philip Klein, who is an expert on this and who has written more about this probably than anybody wrote "Liberals have won the central philosophical argument and Republicans are reduced to fighting over the mechanics." That's the fight we are watching take place right now.

I think it's a problem for Republicans. I don't agree with Mara. I don't think this bill as presented passes.

BAIER: There's an evolution to this bill.

HAYES: There is an evolution to this bill, and something like it could pass or something with major revisions could pass because ultimately the question that leadership is going to post to conservatives and others is, do you want to be for Obamacare or do you want to be for this?

BAIER: Yes, a binary choice.

HAYES: The problem is, if you believe, as Philip Klein suggests and as I believe and as I think many of the conservatives believe that this is basically Obamacare-lite, you are accepting the structure of Obamacare, you're accepting the philosophical underpinnings of Obamacare, that basically this is now a question of universal access, which is a way that you're hearing a lot of the proponents sell it rather than a question about cost and freedom to choose and quality of care and health outcomes, what do you gain? Republicans want to own the politics of that.

BAIER: What's wrong with the pitch that the tax credits are leveling the playing field, that it's a reverse of the subsidies and that it is leveling the playing field on taxes and then market places, when you create, in phase three, across state lines and the tort reform and everything else, that that creates the market by which costs go down?

HAYES: I think that part of the argument is a reasonably compelling part of the argument, that these tax credits are no doubt better than the original subsidies even if you're hearing from conservatives that they're effectively the same thing. I don't think they're necessarily the same thing. But that's one part of one part of one part of the argument. That's not the whole argument.

BAIER: Matt?

MATT SCHLAPP, THE HILL: This is the fundamental political fact. They have got to rescind Obamacare and then they have to pass an alternative. I think the alternative will change greatly, and Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell when it gets over to the Senate would be very smart to have a freewheeling amendment process, allow conservatives to feel like they are part of the creation of this bill. But nobody should be mistaken. At the end of the day, if Republicans fail to rescind and replace Obamacare, they are going to be hurting going forward.

BAIER: OK, here is some congressmen and also Kellyanne Conway on changing the bill.


REP. JIM JORDAN, R-OHIO: We are going to go into this and we're going to try to make this bill better if we can, but right now where it is, it's not what we told the voters we were going to do.

REP. MARK MEADOWS, R-N.C.: If you just look at the bill text, the very first paragraph says it amends the Affordable Care Act. It doesn't repeal it.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Everyone knows as this American Health Care Act makes its way through the normal channels, it probably will be changed somewhat.


BAIER: And then this is House Speaker Ryan talks about this fighting.


REP. PAUL RYAN, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: What you are seeing is we are going through the inevitable growing pains of being an opposition party to becoming a governing party. And in being an opposition party, we had divided government. And 64 percent of our members, 64 percent of our members have never known what it's like to work with a Republican president, to have a unified government.


BAIER: In other words, they've got to make something happen.

LIASSON: Because they promised this for seven years and they voted over and over again to repeal it. This is their number one campaign promise. They have to do this to get on to anything else.

BAIER: All right, but are there going to be enough people who say, well, we don't have to do this, because I didn't agree to this.

LIASSON: In the end, they are going to say you cannot undercut a new president on his first big legislative --

BAIER: How much political capital will President Trump invest in this?

LIASSON: He certainly has committed to invest a lot. What happens over time, does it all of a sudden become Ryan-care when it looks like it's getting more and more unpopular? We don't know. But he says he is in selling mode. He is going to go out there. He's going to put pressure on people, hold rallies. We'll see.

BAIER: Breitbart is already calling it Ryan-care. President Trump is meeting with conservative leaders at this hour including --

HAYES: I guess one of the things that strikes me is we are not seeing the campaign now. It's great if there is a campaign to sell this to come, fine. Where is it? Why haven't they been building this case? I thought the president missed an opportunity in his joint session addressed to tell the story of Obamacare. There is a great story to be told about just how much damage Obamacare has done to raising premiums, all of the stories that people like us who do this for a living know. But I don't think the story is well known. And Tom Price yesterday when he was disputing the White House press corps, took the podium and said Obamacare is collapsing. You know the story. And I thought to myself, you know what, people really don't know the story. Part of the job that Republicans will have is telling the story.

And Republicans always like to jump to budgets, and they like to jump to numbers and they like to jump to facts. Part of what you have to do here is tell the story, and they haven't taken the time to tell the story, and I think now after you are seeing Republicans beat each other up for several days, telling the story now becomes harder.

BAIER: But part of the story is that these insurance companies are leaving this year.

SCHLAPP: Yes, that's right. It is imploding, that's just a fact. I think President Trump has said several times that he knows Obamacare is going to be its own demise pretty soon, but the responsible thing is to come forward.

The only thing I would say to what Steve is saying is we really have been telling the story for seven years. And guess what? The American people bought it, and they think Obamacare is a failure. Paul Ryan is right. It is time to step up, right? But you have to do it in a way where people feel like they're included in that process. And the way this was rolled out today, they don't feel that way. They've got to fix that problem fast.

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