A Teleconference With Senator John Thune About Health Care

A few minutes ago, I just finished up a teleconference on health care with Senator John Thune. What follows are my notes, not quotes from the teleconference.

Opening Statement

We have a 250 billion dollar addition to the debt by paying more to doctors. The Democrats are saying that this won’t add to the deficit, but it does. They’re trying to take this out of the bill to help make the bill look less expensive.

There are three bills that have passed various committees in the Senate and two in the House. They will marry them up, try to pass them, and get them through committee.

Despite the claims that this is about “bending the cost curve,” it doesn’t do that. Premiums go up. Taxes go up. You’re going to see big tax increases –: : taxes on expensive plans, taxes on those who don’t have insurance. According to the CBO, 90% of taxes would fall on people who make under 200k a year. Over 50% of the burden would fall on people who make less than 100k a year. They’re also cutting Medicare, all to pay for a 1.8 billion dollar expansion of the government. It will increase the debt and 25 million people still won’t get insurance.

Republicans want to actually drive the cost of health care down, not raise it.

I think there was a widely held view that somehow the government plan is dead. That’s not true. They’ll label it differently, package it differently, but it will still be a government run plan moving us towards single player. I think the Senate could even have something with a government plan in it.

They know what they want and they see this as an opportunity to make America more like Canada or a European nation. This is a huge battle and if we lose, it will be very difficult to unwind these health care bills in the future.

They are hoping to have a bill on the floor of the Senate next week or the week after. We don’t know for sure, because we’re locked out of the discussions. This is 1/6 of the American economy and we need to take time to debate it properly. It should take several weeks at least.

Q&A Session

The Dems want to end the anti-trust exemption for the insurance industry. What is up with this?

This is the White House and the Democrats trying to rally support by attacking the insurance industry. It won’t actually do much.

Is there a study out there showing how many jobs will be lost in the insurance industry?

There will probably be 80-120 million people forced off of private insurance if this goes through; so that would definitely cost a lot of jobs in the insurance industry.

Do you know what the leadership’s plan is to defeat this in the Senate? You don’t sound optimistic.

I am not trying to be the Grim Reaper here, but I am a bit pessimistic. They have the votes. They don’t need us. They have 60 votes in the Senate and an 80 vote margin in the House. We are trying to reach out to Democrats.

I think if you are a Democrat in a right-of-center state, this is a tough vote, especially because it doesn’t drive premiums down.

We think there needs to be a full CBO score on this bill. We think there needs to be a few weeks on debate. The bill should also be online for 72 hours before it’s voted on.

If we are able to defeat this bill, then we’ll have leverage to try to put some things in a health care bill that would actually reduce costs. We have solutions, but they are not interested in them unless they lose a vote.

Could we be making the argument that these tax increases and unfunded mandates will kill jobs?

That is a good argument. This thing is, this bill is so bad on so many levels, that we are hitting a lot of different things. Most of what we are doing right now in Congress is costing jobs, not creating jobs.

(Question from me) Can you talk a little bit about what will happen if the Democrats try to use procedural tricks like reconciliation to get the bill through the Senate with 50 votes?

I don’t believe the government plan is dead. They are trying to get it back in.

I think they will bring it out under regular order and that requires 60 votes. The first run, at least, they will try it with the public option in it. If that doesn’t work, they will probably try something like the Baucus bill. That will still be a tough bill. It’s a 2 trillion dollar expansion, a 1 trillion dollar tax increase, and a trillion dollars in Medicare cuts.

If that doesn’t work, they go to reconciliation. That would be improper. We would raise points of order. They would need 60 votes to break those.

They could also split the bill — put the revenue portion through reconciliation; they could do it and make it work.

Follow-up: If they split the votes, they can ram it through. Is that true? What can we do at that point?

To stop them on that last tactic, we need at least 11, 12 Democrats to stop them. When they have this kind of majority, there is not a lot we can do. We will do everything we can to block it, but we need the help of the American people to help do it.

If this happens, don’t they end up with a two part bill that looks like the Baucus bill if they split it and go through reconciliation?

They will only do this if they can’t get 60 for Baucus. If you’re serious about health care, how do you support a bill that doesn’t cut costs and leaves 25 million people uncovered?

Could you speculate who the 11 or 12 Democrats who might jump ship would be if it went to reconciliation?

Watch the ones that are up for reelection and the ones in conservative states. It would be tough for us to get that many. Typically, we don’t — but, for something this big, it’s possible.

If the Democrats split this up and it goes to reconciliation, are Democrats going to vote for huge tax increases and Medicare cuts as stand-alone bills?

We hope that if they do that, it becomes a very hard vote. Do Democrats want to vote to raise taxes by a trillion dollars and cut Medicare by a trillion dollars? It’s all speculative, but that would be a very hard vote for a lot of Democrats –: but they may be so desperate enough to get this through, that they’ll do it.

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