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Rep. Hoyer and Sen. Cornyn React to the Ruling

June 28, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
For a policy perspective, Judy Woodruff speaks with Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, about the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And now we have two takes on the court’s judgment from senior members of Congress. 

First, we are joined by Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland.  He is the Democratic whip in the House.  I talked to him this evening. 

Congressman Steny Hoyer, thank you for joining us. 

REP. STENY HOYER, D-Md.Good to be with you, Judy.  Thank you. 

JUDY WOODRUFF:  What does the Supreme Court ruling mean for the country? 

REP. STENY HOYER:  Well, I think it means that people can have confidence that they are, in fact, going to have access to affordable, quality health care and that we will bring prices down, as CBO has said, over the long run, over a trillion dollars of savings that will be effected, that people will not be precluded from getting insurance because of a preexisting condition, that seniors will be able to get prescription drugs at reduced prices, that young people who are under 26 who can’t find a job can stay on their parents’ policy, and that people who get really sick won’t be told that they have lifetime limits and, gee whiz, your illness is too expensive and we’re dropping you from our policy. 

So, that and much more, I think, will be beneficial for the American people. 

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So, the court did rule that it’s constitutional, but, as you know, many Americans — it’s still unpopular with many people.  What do you say to Americans who are worried about the costs going up, worried about less choice? 

REP. STENY HOYER:  Well, actually, their choices I think are going to be expanded, not diminished. 

Furthermore, I think their costs will be contained. 

I think nobody could say actually that their costs are going to go down, but we know that health care costs have been going up at two, three times inflation.  Actually, they have already slowed.  We think this action by the Supreme Court will help over the long term.

And CBO, our Congressional Budget Office, nonpartisan office, has said that as well.  So we think it’s going to help contain costs, make health care more affordable for people, and give access to people who can’t afford health insurance.  And they will get some help in order to have that insurance and security. 

JUDY WOODRUFF:  What about, though, the Republican argument that employers, that many employers are now going to be incentivized to drop coverage, that it’s going to be cheaper for them to take their employees off the rolls, pay the penalty, frankly, leaving people in the lurch with insurance that they can’t afford to buy?

REP. STENY HOYER:  Well, clearly, we’re going to have to make sure that doesn’t happen. 

And we’re going to have to be looking at and talking to employers between now and 2014 to ensure that the program works as expected.  And that is that people will be able to keep their insurance, that employers will keep their employees insured, as they are now, and that people won’t be losing their insurance. 

But if they do lose their insurance, if somebody becomes unemployed, laid off, they will be able to have access to a policy through the exchanges, so that they will have more security, not less. 

JUDY WOODRUFF:  What about, Congressman Hoyer, what the court said in upholding this, but only as a tax?  Does that make it harder to sell this to the American people? 

REP. STENY HOYER:  Well, I think the Republicans have made much of that.  They sustained a loss.  They were absolutely positive that the bill was unconstitutional.  They said so on a regular basis, but the fact of the matter is, the court upheld it, said it was constitutional. 

Now, the tax that we’re speaking of is a contribution, from my standpoint, to purchasing health insurance, taking personal responsibility for your own health insurance so that others paying their health insurance premium don’t have an extra $1,000 on their bill to pay your costs. 

It’s very much like having to have car insurance when you drive a car to make sure that if you injure somebody through an accident, that you have the ability to compensate that individual for their injury, in this case to make sure that, if you get sick, if you get in an accident, if something happens to you that you need health care that you will have the ways and means to compensate for that health care and have access to affordable, quality care, and not have the reliance on the rest of America to pay your bill. 

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And one other question.

What about in terms of Medicaid, what the court has said about the ability of states frankly to opt out of expanding Medicaid coverage?  What about those people whose income level is above poverty level who may not have a choice now of what to do?

REP. STENY HOYER:  Judy, we’re going to have to — I haven’t read that part of the opinion.  As you can imagine, it just came out.  And we have been very busy on the floor of the House, so I haven’t read that portion of it

But clearly one of our efforts was to make sure that everybody did have access to insurance, particularly those who could not afford it, the poor.  And so we’re going to have to look at that to make sure that we don’t have people who are poor who can’t afford insurance don’t fall through the cracks. 

So I can’t say specifically because I haven’t read that portion of the opinion.  But, clearly, we’re going address that and make sure that people are protected. 

JUDY WOODRUFF:  As you know, Republicans are saying they are going to continue to try to repeal this.  They have called for a vote in the House in the middle of July.  And they say, if they can’t do it under this president, they will do it under a President Romney. 

REP. STENY HOYER:  Well, of course, President Romney proposed a program almost exactly like the program that the Supreme Court said was constitutional. 

So it’s a little ironic that a program that was almost exactly like the one President Obama proposed was proposed by Governor Romney, that he would say it was — what was good for Massachusetts wasn’t good for the nation. 

In fact, as Governor Deval Patrick said this morning, they have wide coverage now.  Almost everybody in Massachusetts does have insurance and availability of quality, affordable health care.  The Republicans have been very quick to say, A., this is unconstitutional, B., we want to repeal it, but very, very slow — and, in fact, have not offered an alternative to make sure that people have access to affordable, quality health care.

And I think that’s going to be their challenge.  And it’s very easy to say we don’t like what you have proposed, but much, much more difficult to come up with a proposal that will work. 

JUDY WOODRUFF:  We will leave it there.  Congressman Steny Hoyer, the House minority whip, thank you very much. 

REP. STENY HOYER:  Thank you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And for the other side, we turn to Texas Senator John Cornyn.  He is a member of the Senate Republican leadership team.  I also talked to him earlier this evening. 

Senator Cornyn, thank you very much for joining us. 

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, R-Texas:  Glad to do it. 

JUDY WOODRUFF:  What is your view of what this ruling by the court means for the country? 

SEN. JOHN CORNYN:  Well, the Supreme Court has done its job, which means now the ball’s back in Congress’ court. 

While the court said this mandate is constitutional, as you know, it’s very, very unpopular, as is this law in general.  And so I believe it’s now incumbent on Congress to take up health care reform once again.  And I think we need to start over and to build a system that doesn’t take over the health care system, but one that’s more responsive to consumers, doesn’t interfere with the doctor/patient relationship, and focuses on reducing costs. 

That’s one thing Obamacare didn’t do.  In fact, it raised premiums for most people that already had health insurance. 

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Well, let me ask you about that, because the court has now ruled the act is constitutional.  It passed both houses of Congress.  The president signed it.  The debate has gone on for several years. 

Why does Congress — why do you and other Republicans think it needs to be voted all over again? 

SEN. JOHN CORNYN:  Well, we can’t afford it. 

And that’s one reason.  And the problem is that while the Supreme Court can say what’s legal, what’s constitutional, it doesn’t make policy.  That’s given to — the responsibility is given to the elected representatives of the people in Congress.  And the American people don’t like this bill.  They don’t like the individual mandate.

And, of course, we’re learning — we continue to learn that many of the promises that were made by the president and others that if you like what you have, you can keep it, that premiums will be reduced by family, per families of — by $2,500 — we’re seeing that prices for their premiums are going up. 

So I think this comprehensive health care reform has proven largely to be a failure.  And that’s why I think we need to start again. 

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Well, the president said today, as I’m sure you know — he said the 250 million Americans who already have health care insurance are going to be able to keep it.  He said it’s just going to be more secure and it’s going to be more affordable. 

SEN. JOHN CORNYN:  Well, I’m sorry to say this, but the president’s wrong.  That’s not true. 

Indeed, most of the predictions by groups like McKinsey, the business consulting group, is that once these state-based insurance exchanges are created, that all of the incentives are going to be for employers to drop their employees from their coverage — we’re already beginning to see that — and that as many as 30 percent, maybe as high as 60 percent or more will find themselves dropped from their employer-provided coverage. 

And this is in addition to the fact, Judy, that in order to finance this, we have seen new taxes now, as the Supreme Court’s called this a tax on the middle class, in effect, for the mandate.  And we have seen other taxes that have gone up.  And this is contributing to the slow growth, the recovery of the economy, because employers are telling me, we don’t know what the rules are, we don’t know how much this is going to cost, and we simply are not hiring new people. 

So this has really been a real wet blanket on job creation in the country. 

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So, Senator, what would Republicans replace it with?  If you were able to repeal it, what would you replace it with, and how quickly, and does that depend on President Obama being defeated? 

SEN. JOHN CORNYN:  Well, no.

He could work with us to do something that would be more popular, but, frankly, I’m not optimistic about that.  This has made sure that this will be front and center for the presidential election and in Senate elections across the country.  But what we need to do is to focus on holding down the costs.

One of the innovations that has done a good job of that is things like high-deductible insurance and health savings accounts, so people actually understand what costs are.  We have also seen in the Medicare program with the prescription drug program this has really been one of the few successes we have seen in a government program like Medicare, where we actually have competition and transparency, and providers compete based on price and the quality of service.

And we have seen prices 40 percent below what was originally projected.  Our friends on the other side of the aisle simply don’t believe in competition and using the market to help discipline prices for consumers.  Well, we know that works.  And I think it ought to be given a chance. 

JUDY WOODRUFF:  At the same time, we’re seeing nonpartisan research out there that shows health care costs in many parts of the country, that the dramatic rise that had been there has started to slow down.  As you say, in some cases, the costs are even coming down.

So how does that square with the Republican argument that what the president is doing is going to raise the cost of health care?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN:  Well, we can simply point to the cost of health care going up ever since the Obamacare bill was passed and signed into law and the fact that many costs don’t become implemented or obvious until 2014. 

Many employers, as I indicated earlier, will be incentivized to drop their employees from what is now a fringe benefit provided by the employer into these taxpayer-supported or supplemented insurance exchanges.  And the costs there, Congressional Budget Office estimated that only about 7 percent of employers would do that. 

As I indicated, McKinsey and others thinks it will be much higher.  And indeed I think the incentives are such that no employer will maintain their employee-provided health care coverage if they could pay the penalty and get off cheaper, unless they have some legal or other obligation to their employees that prevents them from doing that. 

So the costs are going to explode under these state-based insurance exchanges far beyond what we have seen already. 

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Senator, finally, does this replace the economy, jobs as the most important issue in this presidential campaign? 

SEN. JOHN CORNYN:  I think it certainly elevates health care to the top tier of issues. 

But, really, I think what we’re going to be talking about is the impact of this failed health care policy on job creation and on the economy generally, what an impediment it’s been and why our economic growth is so slow, in part because of government overreach and big policies like this, which have increased the costs and made it harder on small businesses to create jobs and hire more people. 

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Senator John Cornyn of Texas, thank you very much for talking with us. 

SEN. JOHN CORNYN:  Thank you, Judy.