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Senate Prepares To Consider GOP Health Care Bill


Republicans in the House of Representatives got their way finally. They found enough votes to squeak through a GOP replacement health care bill yesterday. Democrats did not want them to taste victory, though.


UNIDENTIFIED DEMOCRATIC HOUSE REPRESENTATIVES: (Singing) Na, na, na - na, na, na - hey, hey, hey, goodbye.

GREENE: Those are dozens of Democrats singing na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, hey, hey, goodbye, the classic taunting song by Steam. They have implied that Republicans who voted for this bill risk losing their seats in the 2018 midterm elections. Well, now this bill goes to the Senate and into the hands of senators, like our next guest, Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia and of course Hillary Clinton's former running mate. Senator, good morning.

TIM KAINE: Hey, David, good to be with you today.

GREENE: So are you in a singing mood this morning?

KAINE: No, no. I'm in a rolling-up-my-sleeves-and-going-to-work mood because this bill is coming to the Senate. And even Republicans have said there's no chance this House bill is going to pass. But what we have to do is work to avoid all the painful consequences, millions of people losing coverage. Second, we've got to make sure that we hold President Trump accountable. He's made some promises, and I was heartened to see a colleague - a Republican colleague, David - Bill Cassidy, talk about these this morning. President Trump promised no - we would lower premiums, we would maintain coverage for everybody and we would protect those with pre-existing conditions.

If we stick to those core principles and do a bill that meets them, then the American public's going to be a winner, and that's got to be our goal in the Senate. We can't do it by rushing. We've got to take our time, but let's use those principles and hold President Trump accountable to the promises he's made.

GREENE: Well, the president marked the bill's passage in the Rose Garden yesterday surrounded by Republican lawmakers. Here's what he said.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And let's say how good this plan is. We don't have to talk about this unbelievable victory. Wasn't it unbelievable? So we don't have to say it again. But it's going to be an unbelievable victory, actually, when we get it through the Senate.

GREENE: Senator Kaine, it sounds like you see a real chance of getting it through in the Senate if you're able to work with your Republican colleagues. Is that fair?

KAINE: If I - if we stick to the promises that the president has made. You know, he's said over and over again nobody's going to lose coverage, we're going to lower premiums and we're going to protect those with pre-existing conditions. So we have to hold up those three yardsticks to any plans because they're the president's promises. But it's also heartening to see some Republican colleagues saying the same thing. As you know, this House bill, they rushed it through before they had a score from the Congressional Budget Office. That score will come out before the Senate takes it up, and it's likely to show that the House plan would cost millions of Americans their insurance, breaking a Trump promise. So we're not going to allow the promises to be broken. We're going to make sure that they're maintained. And I'm on the Health, Education, Labor, Pension Committee, chaired by Lamar Alexander...

GREENE: You're going to have your sleeves rolled up doing the actual work on this.

KAINE: Absolutely. So we'll be doing the work on it. We should - what we should do is the bill should go into the committee - the Health Committee and the Finance Committee. We should have hearings about the CBO score. We should get doctors, insurers, hospitals, the AARP - all of whom were against the House bill - we should get them to come in and tell us what changes they want. And if we listen to the American public, to patients and others, and we try to honor the promises that the president has made, we can come up with a good product. But the product will not look like the House bill.

GREENE: Let me ask you about the House bill, though. I mean, one group of people who could see real benefits under that bill is younger Americans. I mean, that's according to independent analysis. They'd likely see their annual premiums go down. Supporters of the bill also point out that healthy people will be able to buy less expensive policies in some states than they did under Obamacare. Fair to say this bill will help some people as it's written now?

KAINE: There are some effects like that that could be positive, but on the other side, you see seniors likely to see significant increases in their premiums. You see 24 million people could potentially lose health insurance coverage - that's the combined population of 16 states - Planned Parenthood defunded. And an interesting quirk of the bill, David, that few people are talking about is by cutting Medicaid by $800 billion, which also violates a promise that President Trump made, some of those cuts are going to be to schools providing services to kids with disabilities. There is a significant effect on special education funding in this bill that we need to make sure that we fix.

GREENE: You told The Washington Post a couple weeks ago that the next few years might be the most important years you will ever spend in the Senate. What do you mean?

KAINE: You know, I think this battle really shows that. David, I got back from the campaign trail in November, and immediately, I've been confronted with a whole lot of people who are very, very afraid. The volume of calls to my office has increased four times over what it had been in my previous four years in the Senate. And they're afraid about a lot of things. But many are afraid about losing health insurance, that they've gotten it for the first time in their life, that they can sleep a little bit easier knowing that they or their children will have coverage if they get ill or injured tomorrow.

Fighting to maintain these protections for people and fighting to maintain for our country the notion that you shouldn't be pushed aside and consigned to lesser health because of income - this makes the work really really important. Often, we're debating about things that aren't so important. This is going to be, I think, one of the momentous - most momentous times in the history of the Senate. And I hope that we rise to the occasion.

GREENE: Just briefly, you know, you voted against Neil Gorsuch, Supreme Court justice, who Donald Trump nominated obviously. Many Democrats seem to be focused on preventing the Trump administration from achieving its aims. Can you guarantee - you are really in a compromising mood when it comes to this. You're going to work with Republicans in the Senate.

KAINE: Absolutely.

GREENE: You'll give up some things if you need to. You're ready to replace Obamacare if it comes to that and send it to the president's desk if you're satisfied.

KAINE: I am not - I am not pessimistic about finding a solution. Just give you an example - a Republican senator, Rob Portman, and I got a bill out of committee last week, a bipartisan bill, to do early childhood hearing screenings for kids. Every day, my goal is advance where we can but defend everything we must. And I go to work early, very energized to do both those things.

GREENE: All right. Senator Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, also Hillary Clinton's former running mate, joining us from his home in Richmond. Senator, thanks as always.

KAINE: All right, thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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