Can Republicans finally repeal ObamaCare?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," September 20, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-SOUTH CAROLINA: The vast majority of Republican governors are on board. They want the money. They want the power. They want to get health care out of Washington. They want to do it themselves.

SEN. ANGUS KING, I-MAINE: I characterized this bill as shift and shaft.

NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF., HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: They like the fact that people are paying attention to hurricanes and earthquakes and DACA and this and that and that they might be able to sneak this by.

JIMMY KIMMEL, LATE NIGHT TALK SHOW HOST: He said he wants coverage for all, no discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, lower premiums for middle-class families, and no lifetime caps. And guess what -- the new bill does none of those things.

SEN. BILL CASSIDY, R-LOUISIANA: He is wrong. It will increase coverage and will protect those with pre-existing conditions. It specifically says the state must establish that there is adequate and affordable coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.


BAIER: This is the battle that's going on on Capitol Hill now, the latest effort to repeal ObamaCare with this Cassidy-Graham bill. And the Senate majority leader's office is saying he will bring it to the floor.

Here's what's in it, block grant ObamaCare subsidies and Medicaid expansion to the states. Repeal ObamaCare individual and employer mandates. Repeal the ObamaCare medical device tax. Strengthen the ability for states to waive ObamaCare regulations. Protect patients with pre-existing medical conditions, and that obviously was a lot of the focus of the criticism today, that last line.

Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, editor in chief of "The Weekly Standard," Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at "The Federalist," Charles Lane, opinion writer for the "Washington Post." First let's talk about the substance and what this bill does and what it doesn't do, Steve.

STEVE HAYES, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": This bill does not repeal and replace ObamaCare. What it does is it keeps most ObamaCare taxes and spending but it block grants to states after 2020. The main selling point of the bill is flexibility. As you heard from Lindsey Graham he is basically making the argument that states are going to be able to do they want to do. They can experiment in the manner they want to experiment. If blue states want to move toward a single-payer system, they can do that with their ObamaCare dollars. If red states want to move toward more market-based reforms, they can do that with their ObamaCare dollars.

BAIER: The ultimate in federalism.

HAYES: Yes, the ultimately in federalist. I think that the strongest argument in favor of the bill. Leave it to Nancy Pelosi when there are plenty of criticisms that Democrats could offer of the bill to mischaracterize why Republicans are doing this when they're doing it and how they are doing it. It has nothing to do with hurricanes and sneaking it through. It has everything to do with the fact that Republicans can't do this via reconciliation after September 30th. There's a calendar issue there.

BAIER: Now "The Federalist" will probably say it's not the ultimate in federalism. But go ahead.

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, "THE FEDERALIST": That's the big argument for it, that it allows this flexibility in the states, that they can do they want. We can see which ideas work better.

There's a little bit of an inherent bias cooked into that. If you want to move towards single-payer you don't need a waiver from HHS in order to do it. If you want to test out market reforms, you do need a waiver. And so with that being the case and with the need for the changes to be taking place pretty quickly within about 18 months or 24 months, you might see a rush toward the easier to accomplish changes, a move toward more single-payer as opposed to getting a real chance to try out some of these more exciting market-based reforms.

BAIER: Chuck, the biggest criticism is the Jimmy Kimmel criticism that the pre-existing conditions would be left up to the states. But Cassidy points out that if the state wants to change, it must establish that there is adequate and affordable coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.

depending on what HHS under Tom Price determines adequate and affordable coverage for pre-existing--

BAIER: Which is actually how ObamaCare with a lot of regulations from HHS.

LANE: Yes, although I think the argument would be the ObamaCare regulations are much more rigid. There's less wiggle room in that.

There is another wrinkle here, which is some of the blue states senators are pointing out that under the funding formula that Lindsey Graham has worked out, their Medicaid would be a little bit less generous as this works out whereas red states would go up. And I think that's a sweetener Lindsey Graham put it precisely for some of those red states which may be why some of their governors are on board.

You have governors, however, and it's important to note in the Republican states that have expanded Medicaid are very nervous about what this would mean. I'm talking about Nevada, Ohio of course with John Kasich, and they will be pressuring their senators. I know we're talking about substance, not politics, but because of the way the money works out, they are going to be pressuring their senators to make sure at the least their state doesn't end up with less money than they have now.

BAIER: There is this sense of optimism or at least increasing optimism up on the Hill, Steve, about the numbers. They are still not there. We've been down this road before.

HAYES: I think we might characterize as forced optimism because there is nowhere else to go. This is still a quintuple bank shot. You have to get the requisite number of votes, then it has to clear some hurdles potentially from the parliamentarian. But I think you talk to Republicans up on Capitol Hill, they will say we feel pretty solid with 46, 47, 48 votes. There are a handful of votes that we aren't sure that we're going to get. Rand Paul is almost certainly a no. Susan Collins certainly sounds like a no. Dean Heller, who had opposed some of the earlier reforms is actually a cosponsor of the measure. But Lisa Murkowski, Rob Portman, Shelley Moore Capito, senators like that are still up in the air. John
McCain who had given some signals that he might be in favor of this, it's a bill that's proposed by one of his very good friends, has recently gone back to the argument that he made to oppose the earlier attempts at reform, that he wants this done through regular order. It's not going to be.

So I think it's a very dicey proposition for this to pass, and the optimism, it's sort of cute, but I'm not sure it actually means it's going to pass.

BAIER: The other stipulation McCain made was that the Arizona Governer be behind it, and Arizona Governor Ducey is behind it, so that is another factor there. Mollie, you're counting heads. Where are you?

HEMINGWAY: I think possibly a little more optimistic than Steve. Rand Paul apparently is the only Republican who meant it when he said we are going to repeal ObamaCare. He's not supporting this because it does not in any way repeal ObamaCare. But I think anyone else other than the senator from Maine, Susan Collins, who has been pretty consistent about not wanting to reform the package in any way and she's running for governor, so she'll probably continue in that way. I think everyone else is actually pretty flexible. And there is a lot to sweeten the deal here.

BAIER: Let me interrupt you. I have seen a lot of interviews with Senator Paul, and he voted for the skinny repeal, but yet he's not voting for this. The skinny repeal was not repealing ObamaCare either.

HEMINGWAY: But it gave a pathway toward repeal, and it was at least a move down toward -- the Republicans have been claiming for years they're going to repeal ObamaCare. Replace isn't even part of that. So at least there was something to that bill, there was some movement that could be made and there was some ground on which you could claim to keep going. This does nothing of the sort.

But the fact of the matter is, again, Republicans weren't telling the truth when they said they were going to repeal ObamaCare, so now the question becomes what's the best way to have government handling all of these things. For a lot of conservatives, block grants are the way to go.

BAIER: I do want to play this sound bite before we go, and that is the namesake of this law, the former president.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I see people trying to undo that hard-won progress for the 50th or 60th time, it is aggravating. It frustrates. And it's certainly frustrating to have to mobilize every couple months to keep our leaders from inflicting real human suffering on our constituents.


BAIER: Of course he doesn't talk about the fact that the law itself is imploding in a lot of these states.

LANE: Because some of us don't think it is imploding in a lot of states and that the defects have been exaggerated. It is hasty --

BAIER: Although --

LANE: -- without a CBO score. And I seem to recall John McCain saying he wanted regular order and bipartisanship. Something that's being left out in this is the bipartisan effort that was going between Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray. That seems to be over. And frankly it will be interesting whether Lamar Alexander can be brought on board for this bill given his position on that one.

BAIER: If you talked with state that is seen premiums go up 125 percent, you don't think that's --

LANE: We are talking about the premiums increasing on the individual market and there are major coverage advances through Medicaid expansion which is what this targets. Of course ObamaCare is not perfect.

HAYES: Coverage has been advances, and massive overspending. Just very briefly on Rand Paul, he voted for a bill that was 100 percent, kept 100 percent of ObamaCare funding. This keeps 90 percent of ObamaCare funding and he opposes this. He's got some explaining to do.

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