Interviews

Sen. Portman: We are a lot closer to tax reform than health care

On 'Your World,' Ohio senator discusses McCain's diagnosis, ObamaCare overhaul and tax reform

 

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," July 20, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: I want to get the read from all of this with Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman.

Senator, good to have you.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN, R-OHIO: Hey, Neil. Good to be on again.

CAVUTO: We can talk about when -- and hopefully soon -- Senator John McCain gets back.

But, bottom line, it's a tough fight he's got here, huh?

PORTMAN: It's a very tough fight, yes. Our hearts go out to him and Cindy.

But there's nobody tougher, Neil, as you know. You have known him a long time. He's been on your program a lot. I love the fact that he said, my partners are unfortunate going to have me back.

CAVUTO: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

PORTMAN: He's a fighter, man. He's a fighter.

And I did a message to him today. And I said, Captain McCain, we need you back in the fight.

So, he's tough. I believe he is coming back. And I believe that he's going to surprise a lot of people who are saying it's going to take a while. He may be back pretty soon.

CAVUTO: It's interesting, too.

And I know, at times like these, it's natural for people to sort of try to be above politics here and wish him well in a bipartisan way. But it's sad that sometimes it takes something like this to bring that out in Congress.

I mean, he's getting universal praise from Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama, obviously, even President Trump, with whom he has had an acrimonious relationship.

PORTMAN: Yes.

CAVUTO: But it just reminds me -- I know I'm going a little off-topic here, Senator -- why it takes something like that to bring out the better nature of the political powers that be. What do you think?

PORTMAN: Yes. Well, it's totally true.

And, by the way, one reason I like going on your program, Neil, is that you and I can disagree. You can disagree with other guests. You do it in a respectful way. And you mentioned our better nature.

Certainly, Abraham Lincoln had a lot of enemies politically, and had some tough times, but he always talked about the better angels of our nature. The better part of us talks about somebody with respect, even if we disagree with them.

And that's what is missing sometimes today in politics. It's very personal. It's sometimes not about listening. It's about talking. And so, hopefully, whether it's the shooting that occurred a few weeks ago where everybody came together...

CAVUTO: Yes.

PORTMAN: ... and, you know, sort of held up the institution of Congress and public service and said, this is -- this shall not happen again and must not happen again, we need to work together, hopefully, we will get back to some of that, because we have got some big problems.

And among them are tax reform.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: What do you make on the problems on tax reform?

It's interesting that we're hearing word that Speaker Ryan says that he and other leaders, I assume yourself included, sir, are very close, are working in concert with a consistent draft with White House officials on tax policy.

I guess the goal is this fall sometime, but I do know, every time you and I have gotten together, that deadline keeps getting pushed back a bit. It sounds like one of my diets.

(LAUGHTER)

CAVUTO: But I wonder whether this one will be any more successful. So, steer me through the process, how it's looking to you.

PORTMAN: Yes.

I met with Paul yesterday. And Speaker Ryan was chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. He has got a real passion for tax reform. He wants to get it done. He's had lots of meetings. We have had meetings on our side really for the past several years, when you get right down to it.

And I think we are a lot closer on this than health care, as an example, because Republicans pretty much agree we ought to have lower tax rate, have some tax relief, tax cuts, particularly for middle class families, and that we got to do something that is just so sensible on the international side, where it's crazy. We're losing jobs and investment overseas.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: But you mentioned the health care thing at the outset there.

The president did a 180, as you know, Senator, by saying at first earlier in the week, let ObamaCare implode -- I'm paraphrasing here -- but that hang this on the Democrats and they will come crawling back to us.

PORTMAN: Yes.

CAVUTO: The very next day, revisits it, telling Republican senators, look, we have got to do something here.

Why do they keep going back to this thing, when it looks like they're not making any progress? Just go right on to the tax reform.

PORTMAN: Yes, look, I think we should have started with tax reform, as you know. And I think infrastructure would have been a good thing too to get done.

But we're in health care reform. And I think we ought to stay on it. I'm actually one of those people who believes we ought to get to a solution. It's not going to get any easier, Neil.

CAVUTO: Do you support a repeal vote right now? I mean, a lot of your colleagues aren't sure that would even succeed.

PORTMAN: No, look, I don't know that it -- apparently, it wouldn't.

But, more importantly, I don't think it's the right way to go right now. Let's not throw in the towel. Let's actually get the reforms that we Republicans have been talking about for years, giving the states more flexibility, giving the insurance companies the ability to sell plans people want to have.

I mean, none of that happens with repeal. All it does is, it kicks the can down the road. So, I know...

CAVUTO: So, you weren't in the camp, Senator, that said something was better than nothing, having something that was a little less big government than ObamaCare, the way it's presently stipulated, would have been better.

(CROSSTALK)

PORTMAN: Get rid of the mandates. Get rid of all the taxes. Get rid of the stuff that's actually causing these rates to go up so dramatically.

In my own state, as you know, we have now got 19 counties with zero insurance companies in the individual market, another 27 with only one insurer. That's not competition. If you just do repeal, all the experts tell me a lot more uncertainty and a lot more plans are going to leave, and costs are going to go up even more.

So, let's sort of bite the bullet and do this. And I think we're pretty darn close. I really do. I spoke to Vice President Mike Pence on the phone recently about this today. And we had a god meeting at lunch today. We had a meeting late last night.

And I know it's going to be tough to get there, because we come from different states, different perspectives. But I think we have got a responsibility to really get try to a conclusion on this and to come up with a solution, not just kick the can down the road.

That's my preference. It's what the president also says he wants. He said it three times in our meeting yesterday. As you said, he has said different things. But, right now, I think he's really focused on, how do you actually get a replacement that makes sense?

CAVUTO: I don't know if he's focused on that. That stuff over Jeff Sessions, does he waste his time going into these tangents, or...

PORTMAN: Well, he's -- he speaks his mind and he tweets his mind.

CAVUTO: Right.

PORTMAN: And that's something that other presidents haven't done, at least on the Twitter platform.

(LAUGHTER)

CAVUTO: He's different than....

PORTMAN: So, but we have got big issues to address.

And going back to the point you made about figuring out how to find common ground and come together, I mean, taxes, regulations, health care, certainly what's going on globally right now, we have got lots of reasons to figure out how to work together to solve these problems.

And I hope we can get this health care thing resolved in the next couple weeks. I hope we stay, by the way, into the August break in order to do that. Let's not go home. Let's stay here and get this done.

CAVUTO: All right, well, I think both sides would agree you are one of the calming influences there, so hope that prevails.

Senator, very good seeing you.

PORTMAN: Thanks, Neil. Thanks for having me on again.

END

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