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House Ways And Means Committee Chair Defends GOP Health Care Bill


We turn now to Representative Kevin Brady, Republican of Texas and head of the House Ways and Means Committee. Welcome to the program.

KEVIN BRADY: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: Now, you've got Democrats out there like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi essentially using the Congressional Budget Office estimate as a cudgel. I mean does that tell you that the dynamics of this fight have changed, that, like, a health care bill that would uninsure 24 million people over 10 years is a nonstarter?

BRADY: Yeah, no, it isn't, and here's why. If you look closely at the report - whether you agree with it or not, by the way - if you look closely at it, there's one sort of glaring point even next year in 2018 where Medicaid stays the same and Obamacare stays the same. All the coverage, the subsidies are exactly as they are.

Eleven million Americans are exiting. And why? It's because this is health care they don't want and can't afford. They've been begging lawmakers to stop forcing them to buy it. So 11 million Americans and then more over the next number of years are saying, we just can't afford Obamacare.

CORNISH: I want to get to the substance of the House proposal, particularly the tax provisions that would be under your committee in terms of unwinding those. And I know that the House Republican proposal does something different from the Affordable Care Act. Instead of having the IRS penalize people who don't buy insurance, it lets insurance companies charge a surcharge on premiums for people who let their policies lapse. Here's Kentucky Senator Rand Paul's take on that.


RAND PAUL: Instead of paying the mandate to the government, they're going to tell you you have to pay the mandate by law to an insurance company. So a lot of conservatives will be upset to know that we're keeping those things from Obamacare.

CORNISH: Senator Paul speaking on CNN earlier this month - and he's not the only Republican with this criticism, you know, kind of calling this a version of Obamacare. What's your response?

BRADY: Yes, well, I disagree with Senator Paul and note that his legislation is often called Obamacare-plus by others because it doesn't repeal any of the taxes or the subsidies of Obamacare, keeps them in place. He has the equivalent of three new unlimited subsidy programs that aren't paid for. It's a huge budget buster. So there's a reason it has limited support.

This is your choice. You have the freedom to buy a plan that's right for you, not Washington's plan, or not at all. But just know that over the years, should you choose not to have insurance, when you do get sick, the cost of those premiums will be higher, as they should be.

CORNISH: Are tax credits essentially the same as government subsidies, right? You have some critics who say, look; either way, this is a kind of entitlement, and we're supposed to be getting rid of entitlements.

BRADY: Yeah, so I realize many of these are sort of wedge questions I think hoping to pit Republicans against Republicans, but tax credits have been a portion of every Republican - nearly every Republican health care plan for more than a decade. You know, credits that are focused on age that expand with your family - these are the credits that over time have been shown to provide the most affordable health care and don't contribute to ever-escalating premiums.

CORNISH: Chairman, you talked about these questions as wedge questions to pit Republicans against each other. I want to actually play some audio from Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, who has a message for House members on voting for your bill.


TOM COTTON: Do not walk the plank and vote for a bill that cannot pass the Senate and then have to face the consequences of that vote.

CORNISH: He sees this bill as something that could hurt the chance for Republican majorities going forward.

BRADY: Well, I appreciate Senator Cotton. I'm always anxious for our senators, especially respected ones like Tom Cotton, to bring their ideas forward. We are in the House writing this legislation to the Senate rules that Senator Cotton and others control. To the extent that they can address these issues themselves - and we're always excited when Senate Republicans do their job, not ours - I'm convinced that repealing the awful taxes and subsidies mandates of Obamacare and beginning to restore state control in the free market are exactly the recipes to more affordable health care. And we are always anxious to have our Senate Republicans working in the Senate to improve upon our ideas going forward.

CORNISH: Finally, this has been called the first step in the Republicans' health care reform effort. Leadership has been saying that on a parallel track is tax reform - right? - which is under your committee. Why should people who have been waiting for a long time for a promised repeal of the Health Care Act wade through another entirely different battle - tax reform - to get it?

BRADY: For Americans who want a different direction who don't want, you know, a sub-2 percent growth where there are few opportunities and fewer opportunities for new jobs and salaries, tax reform is critical to getting our economy healthy again and providing the jobs - good-paying jobs that people want.

And so, you know, yes, these are difficult issues, but the last election made it clear that people want the direction this country changed. They want to shake up Washington, and they want problems solved. So that's exactly what we're doing.

CORNISH: Texas Republican and chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Congressman Kevin Brady, thank you for speaking with us.

BRADY: Sure. Thank you.