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Sen. Roberts: We need to debate and vote on the health care bill

July 19, 2017 at 6:45 PM EDT
President Trump called on Senate Republicans Wednesday not to leave Washington until a health care plan is approved, despite reaching an impasse with the latest version of the bill to replace the Affordable Care Act. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the meeting between the president and GOP senators, and how they might move forward.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now we return to the battle over health care and President Trump’s meeting with Senate Republicans at the White House.

We hear from two people who were in the room, first Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas. He is a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

I spoke with him a short time ago and started by asking what the president changed today in his pitch to senators.

SEN. PAT ROBERTS, R-Kan.: We had a meeting that I thought was highly productive.

I thought the president made a very good case that if you simply have a repeal and, in two years, you’re going to see further deterioration, if that’s the right word, for Obamacare. In Kansas, our premiums continue to soar. We’re up now $3,000.

This is a little like being in the back seat of a convertible with Thelma and Louise and we’re headed toward the canyon. We’re about at the edge. So, we have got to do something. Number one, we have to get out of the car. Number two, we have got to get into a new car.

And that’s what the president was talking about. We had the entire Republican Conference. I think he did a good message. There was a good — I think he did a good job.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But what has changed with your Republican colleagues? Because, yesterday, there weren’t going to be enough votes to do this. Today, there are? Is that simply because of an argument the president made?

SEN. PAT ROBERTS: Well, the first thing is, Judy, is that we have got to get over this business of denying the leadership of our party, Mitch McConnell, at least a motion to proceed.

I think the American people want us to debate it. I think the American people want us to vote on several different items that people would be presenting. This is a vote-a-rama anyway. You’re probably going to have 150 votes,. But we need a debate and we need to vote.

Now, this business of stopping the motion to proceed, that has to quit. And that was one of the main messages that the president indicated, to give Mitch McConnell the — obviously, the number of votes he needed to go ahead with this kind of an exercise.

I think the president really listened. We had at least 35 people, maybe 40, make suggestions with regards to the bill. There was a lot of consensus.


SEN. PAT ROBERTS: And the other thing — and I think he mentioned this is much larger than health care — is whether or not Republicans can actually govern.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you’re saying — let me just clarify. So, you’re saying whether Republicans can get together as a group is more important than health care legislation?

SEN. PAT ROBERTS: No, it’s not more important. It’s another consideration, that, if we can’t do this, maybe you can’t do tax reform or, for that matter, anything else on the table. Both are very important.

Obviously, you have to get health care right. That was the whole intent of the meeting. He listened very carefully. He stated his position very forcefully. And I think it was a good meeting.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me ask you about the fact that the criticisms of this legislation are the same today as they were yesterday.

And I’m just looking at the state of Kansas. Your hospital association had — had looked at the changes you had proposed directing more money to the hospitals. And they said, that’s great, but they said, even with that, it doesn’t make up for the deep cuts to Medicaid and other problems with the bill.

What would you say today to your hospital association?

SEN. PAT ROBERTS: Well, as a matter of fact, I’m meeting with them just as I get through talking with you.

I will point out to them that Obamacare will continue to deteriorate. We have already lost one insurance company; 42,000 Kansans don’t have insurance anymore. And if we lose our remaining insurer, we’re really going to be in trouble.

So, it isn’t so much what we would like to have as what is happening to Obamacare. Now, working with the Kansas Hospital Association, I think there are going to be some new ideas presented in whatever bill that comes up with — or we come up with. And the president was doing a lot of listening. The White House was doing a lot of listening, Tom Price, Seema Verma, all the people within the administration, that they’re going to come up with something new.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator, I also was reading that 70 percent of all Medicaid enrollees in the state of Kansas are children.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Three hundred thousand Kansas children. What’s going to happen to them?

SEN. PAT ROBERTS: Well, they’re going to be covered. We are increasing Medicaid every year.

There may be some more wrap-around amendments or different opportunities for Medicaid for us. And we were a non-Medicaid state. I think one of the reasons the Kansas Hospital Association was so upset with this is that, twice, they really supported efforts on Medicaid funding, and not to make it a non-Medicaid expansion state.

But that ship has sailed. The Kansas state legislature didn’t approve that, and the governor vetoed it. And they were not able to override the veto. We have to work with what we have. They’re going to be in my office in about 30 minutes, and we are going to go over that and what the president said.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we look forward to hearing about the outcome of that meeting.

Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, thank you very much.

SEN. PAT ROBERTS: My privilege. Thank you.