GOP works to avoid another defeat on health care

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," May 3, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


HOUSE MINORITY LEADER NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF.: They have made it, put this forth to make it look like we've improved the bill. No, it doesn't improve the bill.

REP. FRED UPTON, R-MICH.: What this amendment would do is provide additional funds directly into the high risk pools.

REP. DAN KILDEE, D-MICH.: As if it's enough to provide support for preexisting conditions.

REP. MICHAEL BURGESS, R-TEXAS: I am anxious to vote yes. I'm anxious to see what the Senate will do with our product.

SENATE MINORITY LEADER CHARLES SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: TrumpCare cannot pass the Senate. So to my moderate Republican colleagues I ask, why would you risk a "yes" vote?

REP. LOUIE GOHMERT, R-TEXAS: We just need to take the vote and do it. And I think it passes as soon as we do.

HOUSE MAJORITY WHIP REP. STEVE SCALISE, R-LA.: We've been gaining votes, and that's been a real positive development.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Meetings are continuing at this hour on Capitol Hill. We cannot say yet whether they are going to try to vote on repealing and replacing Obamacare, this health care bill tomorrow in the House. We can say a lot of meetings happened today. For example, the vice president was up on Capitol Hill, as well as HHS secretary, the CMS administrator. And there was some optimism as you look at the Dow. I mentioned it with Liz Claman. About 11 o'clock, noon there was word that two key health care votes came over, and there was indication the Dow liked that news. Maybe it was the spending bill as well. But they are moving. Let's see how much.

Let's bring in our panel: Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist; Jonah Goldberg, senior editor of National Review, and Carol Lee, White House correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. Carol, your sense. I mean after that meeting at the White House, is there a sense at the White House that this is going to come to fruition?

CAROL LEE, WALL STREET JOURNAL: They feel much better about it. I was at the White House today when the House members came out and talked to the reporters after the meeting. It was a lengthy meeting. And they seemed to have reached some sort of compromise that they feel they can thread the needle with this.

The White House later, however, made some pretty significant promises, saying that preconditions would be, the guarantee that everyone who had used the preconditions provision would have the same effect and it wouldn't change. They also admitted they don't know exactly what effect would be on premiums. And they were optimistic about this. And as you know they've had a very tough go so far on any of the president's legislative priorities. So they would very much like a vote on this. And then it goes to the Senate where obviously that's a much tougher haul.

BAIER: You were talking about the preexisting conditions, and this was a big problem for moderates particularly. The president also referenced it this weekend. Fred Upton from Michigan offered an amendment, and basically here he is explaining what it does.


UPTON: It's our understanding that the $8 billion over the five years will more than cover those that might be impacted, and as a consequence keeps our pledge for those that in fact would be otherwise denied because of preexisting illnesses. The guess is that should a state decide to go for a waiver, there would be fewer at the beginning than the end of the five years.


BAIER: So keep it simple, Jonah. The bill puts people into high risk pools, and that's their solution for preexisting conditions. If for some reason they slip through the cracks, this amendment provides money to make sure that they are covered.

JONAH GOLDBERG, NATIONAL REVIEW: Frankly I find the whole thing kind of bizarre. First of all, Fred Upton has been talking for years now about doing precisely what he's spent the last week opposing. It's a very bizarre, hypocritical position that he's taken.

But moreover, two of the GOP moderates seem to have bought into the spin that was put out in very aggressive style by the Obama administration that the key issue is preexisting conditions, that that is what kept people from getting insurance, when that was actually a tiny fraction of the issue. The real issue isn't preexisting medical conditions. It's preexisting economic conditions. But preexisting medical condition polls better. It's one of the only really popular features of Obamacare. And the Republicans seem to have bought into it even though, like Tom MacArthur from New Jersey, a lot of these states like New Jersey already have guarantees about preexisting conditions and had them for decades.

So even if they got a waiver from Obamacare, it wouldn't affect anybody with preexisting conditions. It's a weird poll testing complaint of convenience rather than dealing with the actual issues about getting more people insured.

BAIER: And here is Raul Labrador on this very issue, making that argument.


REP. RAUL LABRADOR, R-IDAHO: You guys in the media have been reporting that we're not taking care of people with preexisting conditions, and that's just absolutely false. What our bill does, it creates what's called an invisible risk pool where everybody's premiums are going to be going down and some people's premiums are going to be subsidized by the government, and those people are going to be usually people with preexisting conditions and others.


BAIER: Mollie?

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: The question of polling is also interesting because people actually don't support having these big provisions for preexisting conditions when they understand how expensive it is and how little it actually has to do with health outcomes. There's also something utterly bizarre about not understanding economics 101 about insurance where you need to be paying into it for a long time, not having free riders who only come in and pay up once they need medical care. And then also there's not an understanding that people who cost more in terms of what their insurance costs are should be sharing a bigger share of the burden. That doesn't mean to have two pay all of their burden or that it should bankrupt them or anything like this, but this is just a basic schematic of insurance is that you want to make sure that people are incentivized properly. So this is an interesting change.

BAIER: Democrats are howling. Senator Schumer on the floor talking about this amendment.


SCHUMER: We don't even know if the new version would survive the rules under reconciliation. The amendment to allow states to drop pre- existing condition requirement, for instance, very possibly it violates the Byrd rule. If the moderate group in the House gets an additional amendment to deal with the very same issue, that may violate the Byrd rule as well.


BAIER: And before everybody at home glazes over, the Byrd rule, to be clear, this is from The Washington Post: "In the '80s, Senator Robert Byrd, Democrat from West Virginia, advocated for rule to prevent anything that doesn't directly change the level of spending or revenue or where the changes are mere incidental to the policy from being passed under reconciliation. It's known as the Byrd rule, and any senator can raise a point of order under it to challenge a policy's pertinence to the budget. The Byrd rule is largely what keeps policymakers form just passing an entire Obamacare repeal and replace bill under reconciliation and calling it a day." Reconciliation, Carol, enables the Republicans to vote it through with 51 votes and not 60.

LEE: Right. And that's what you described there as one of the many challenges that this legislation is going to have when it moves to the Senate. Republicans can only afford to lose two senators in whatever process takes place in the Senate, however they change the bill. So that's going to be a challenge. Then obviously it has to go back to the House and they have to reconcile it. So we are in the beginning of a very long process, and I think what's happened is that the White House has so much wanted just some sort of movement on their legislative agenda that they have put a lot of stock in this one House vote, but it's really just the beginning.

BAIER: Any other day, Jonah, the leader of the Palestinian Authority meeting with the president in the Oval Office would have been the top. But this is drinking from a fire hose.

GOLDBERG: And it's been like this it feels like now for 103 days. It's a newsy environment. It's remarkable.

BAIER: Is the Middle East peace talks, the president said "It might not have been as tough as it has been. I believe we can get this done," and he says let's prove them wrong. And Abbas says OK?

LEE: It is delightful to see this level of optimism --


LEE: -- about fixing something that goes back for so long. But it's good that people are beginning to make some movements, and we will see how things go.

HEMINGWAY: He really raised expectations today in terms of his ability to get a deal.

BAIER: We will see.

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