Sen. Mike Lee Explains Why He Couldn't Vote for the BCRA—And Continues to Support a Full Repeal

Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) joined Glenn on radio today to discuss the senate's latest version of the health care bill flatlining. Lee was among a handful of senators who refused to vote for the bill, which failed to provide the relief needed to assist everyday Americans.

"One or two of the bravest men in the Senate, Mike Lee," Glenn said, welcoming Lee to the program. "Thank you so much for your bravery and your leadership on this."

Not only did the bill fail, it also prompted the president to tweet about passing a full repeal of Obamacare.

"Just because some moderates don't like to have to vote for it or against it. I don't see any good reason why, when this is the one thing that has united Republicans for seven years, why we should let anyone who has attained federal public office by campaigning on repealing Obamacare, to walk away from a vote to actually repeal Obamacare," Lee said.

GLENN: One or two of the bravest men in the Senate, Mike Lee. Welcome to the program. How are you, Mike? Mike, are you there?

MIKE: Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Good to be with you.

GLENN: Hi. Good to be with you.

Thank you so much for your bravery and your leadership on this. You did provide an amendment, along with Ted Cruz. But in the end, they changed it. And what was it that made you say, I just can't vote for this bill?

MIKE: To me, one of the tipping points was the moment when the consumer freedom amendment -- this is the amendment that would have allowed people on the exchange to offer an insurance policy that a consumer would want to buy and an insurer would want to offer, outside of the Obamacare regulations, outside of this oppressive regime that has made health care more expensive.

They watered that down to say that any company that's going to offer a non-Obamacare compliant plan would have to put that in the same risk pool as the Obamacare-compliant plans. The short way of describing my concern with that is that, while that would reduce the cost of health insurance some, in that area, it wouldn't do so nearly as much as it would if you just adopted the full consumer freedom amendment, as we have negotiated it.

So at that point, I looked at this, Glenn, and I said, look, this bill as they've now got it, it's moved further to the left. They have now gotten rid of about half of the tax hike repeals from Obamacare. They've added a bunch of other stuff to it that I have questions about, including $45 billion to be spent in some unknown way, to deal with opioid addiction. And now they've watered down this key provision that I think was really important. It was at that point that I realized, this thing just keeps moving to the left, and I'm not going to support it, in its current form.

GLENN: Okay. So, Mike, people aren't thinking about left and right. The people who are really affected by Obamacare -- you know, I said earlier, if this bill, Obamacare would have actually done what they said it would do, which is reduce everybody's insurance by $2,500, we wouldn't be having this conversation right now. But people have gone up -- their insurance has gone up 140 percent. People have lost doctors. I got an email last night saying, you know, I have a 6,500-dollar deductible. And I pay $1,500 a month for my insurance. I can't afford it anymore. Talk to them.

MIKE: Yeah, that's right.

GLENN: Talk to them.

MIKE: That's why I have such concerns with this bill. This bill is really good to the insurance industry. It contains some provisions that someone would describe as bailouts. I don't always call them that, but some would characterize them that way. It contains all kinds of relief for this or for that kind of interest.

The person it leaves out is the forgotten man, the forgotten woman, the middle class American who is struggling to get by, who is seeing health care premiums hike over and over and over again, even as deductibles have skyrocketed and coverage has become less pervasive. And this bill doesn't provide enough relief to them. I want to make sure that the forgotten man and the forgotten woman in America are forgotten no more. And that we get Washington, DC, out of their way.

STU: Senator, you -- by your framing of this argument, this bill would have relieved us of half of the Obamacare taxes. It would have relieved us -- at some level, lowered the cost of insurance and lowered premiums. Not as much you would want, not as much as any of us would want. Why not just take what you can get and keep fighting?

MIKE: First of all, once we get on to the bill, it becomes very, very difficult to change it. Now, I'm still convinced that we can pass something. I'm still convinced that we could pass either some variation of this bill, with some changes made to it. Changes that I believe would be relatively easy to make. Or alternatively, that we could get on to a full repeal and just pass that. It's important that we actually do those things. Because the further we divert -- the further we depart from what we've been promising for seven years, what every Republican who has campaigned for any federal office, since 2010 -- whether for the House or for the Senate or for the presidency, they've all campaigned on one consistent theme: Repeal Obamacare. We have to make sure that we're faithful to that promise.

GLENN: Okay. So, Mike, the skeptics now say that we can't repeal Obamacare. President Trump, last night, I guess was having dinner with a bunch of senators, trying to get them on board, not knowing that you were writing your why we can't support this. And so his dinner last night was -- was wasted.

STU: Should have invited you apparently.

GLENN: Yeah, should have invited you.

But now they're saying -- the president has come out, and so has what's his name from Kentucky?

MIKE: Rand Paul.

GLENN: McConnell. No, no, no. McConnell has come out and said, "Okay. We're going to repeal it now." A, do they actually mean the repeal as we understand it? Can we do that with 51 votes? And what's standing in the way?

MIKE: I believe we can repeal it with 51 votes. We know that we can repeal at least two-thirds of it with 51 votes because we got that through the parliamentary and under this reconciliation measure in 2015. That's the one that President Obama vetoed.

I also believe we could add to that one and get in some additional features, the title one health care regulations. At least in part, it could be added to those and get those repealed.

As to whether we can get the votes, there are some who are expressing skepticism about that. But, Glenn, I'm unwilling to assume that we can't get there just because some moderates don't like it.


MIKE: Just because some moderates don't like to have to vote for it or against it. I don't see any good reason why, when this is the one thing that has united Republicans for seven years, why we should let anyone who has attained federal public office by campaigning on repealing Obamacare, to walk away from a vote to actually repeal Obamacare.

GLENN: Right. At least -- as I said this morning, at least we know who they are.

MIKE: Exactly.

GLENN: Right now -- right now, we're asked to compromise to the worst bill I could imagine Republicans could possibly present. And we're not making people stand on their promise. We need to know who is weak-kneed and who is lying to their constituents.

MIKE: That's exactly right. And that's one of the reasons why I applaud Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and why I applaud the president in responding last night to this news by saying, "Okay. Let's repeal it."

GLENN: Okay. So if they do repeal it, just pass what they have passed how many times before, will that reduce people's premiums?

MIKE: You know what, it will at least set in motion a sequence of events that will reduce people's premiums. We have to remember, Glenn, that when the federal government expanded its footprint in the health care industry, rather dramatically, with the passage of Obamacare, it made the cost of health care go way up. And it will do an enormous amount of good, as far as lowering premiums, if we can also get rid of the Obamacare title one regulations. These are the regulations that tell insurance companies what they have to do.

GLENN: Right.

MIKE: In other words, if we were analogizing this to the car industry, you can't just buy a car. Everybody has to buy a car. But it can't be just any car. It has to be a car that will have all the features of a standard issue Cadillac or anything more expensive than that.

When we impose regulations like that, it makes it more expensive for everyone. It reduces competition. It's good for consolidation and big industry, resulting in $15 billion in profits in the top ten insurance companies in the last few years, down from 8 billion before Obamacare had kicked in. These things are good for them, but they're bad for everyone else.

PAT: Mike, can I ask you a question, just borne of extreme frustration over years of witnessing this?

MIKE: Sure. With that lead-in, that sounds fun.

PAT: Why is it Republicans are so bad at defending their bills and their principles? Every time something comes up, we have Bernie Sanders screaming that thousands and thousands -- 27,000 people a year are going to die as a result of what you're doing. Nancy Pelosi comes out and makes those statements. And I never see that stuff refuted by the Republican Party.

GLENN: We run. We run.

PAT: We tuck our tail between our legs. And skulk back and say, "Okay. Well, then we won't do that then." Why does that happen every time?

MIKE: Well, you raise an important point, which is that when someone raises a ridiculous argument, the worst thing we can do is to not address it and then walk back on what we've planned to do.

PAT: Uh-huh.

MIKE: There are cases in which people make a ridiculous, absurd suggestion like that, where it almost doesn't even warrant a response. I mean, that is just absurd to say that we're killing people by changing the reach of the federal government, by saying the federal government shouldn't make every health care decision in America.

PAT: It is absurd. But the media buys into it and propagates it.

MIKE: Sure. Sure. But the very worst thing we can do in response to that is to say, okay. Well, then let's not do that. Let's do something that's a little bit more like what Obamacare did. And that will suddenly make it better.

Well, it doesn't. It doesn't at all.

I mean, look we are supposed to be the party that believes in limited government. We're supposed to be the party that believes in federalism and separation of powers. That believes in freedom and free markets. That believes that free markets and civil society have done more to bring more people out of poverty than any government program ever has, ever could, or ever will. That's where we've got to be standing. And I think that's the direction in which we're headed, insofar as we move forward with an actual repeal bill.

STU: Two quick questions, Senator Mike Lee: One -- these are brief. So, one, the 2015 repeal bill did not repeal any of the regulations. Is that accurate?

MIKE: That is accurate. We believe we could add some or perhaps even all of the health care regulation sections from Title One of the Affordable Care Act to a repeal bill. There were a variety of strategic reasons why those weren't included at the time. Some parliamentary difficulty we would have had at the time, that we could overcome this time.

GLENN: Okay.

STU: Okay. And last one, there are 52 senators. We know Susan Collins voted against the repeal in 2015. So you would only have one to lose. If everyone voted the way they did in 2015, do you have enough votes to pass this?

MIKE: Yes. Yes. Because at that point, even assuming Susan Collins still votes no, you would pick up Rand Paul, who would vote for a repeal bill. You would pick up Jerry Moran, who stood with me last night. You would pick up with me. So if everyone else also votes for it, that would be more than enough that we would need. We would still have 51.

GLENN: Okay. One last -- one last thing. I want you to speak directly to the person who is a Republican who says you've wrecked our best chance, Mike, of getting rid of Obamacare. And you betrayed the G.O.P. and betrayed the president.

MIKE: If you're going to make that assertion, back it up. If you're going to make that assertion, ask the question: Why have Senate Republicans not yet voted on that which they promised for seven years they would enact if given the opportunity? Why have they not yet voted even on the 2015 version of the repeal bill.

You cannot accuse someone who wants us to do simply that which we promised, of wrecking the effort to do that which we promised, when that person -- me -- is simply advocating for us to do what we said we would do. That's all we're asking here. It's not too much to ask, nor is it something that the American people should be asked to back away from.

We've been asked to settle over and over and over again as Americans. I'm here to say it's not time to settle. It's time to expect more. It's time for us to keep our word.

GLENN: Okay. One last -- now, talk to the person who is just barely hanging on. When is help coming, Mike?

MIKE: Help is coming soon. Help is coming, I hope, within the next few weeks, to the next few months, when we can pass something that will get rid of the federal government's oppressive reach. We believe so solve all of our problems through the federal government. And, in fact, what we see is that when we try to do that, when we try to pretend that we can do that, we end up making things worse. It ends up being really good for the rich and the well-connected. A small handful of big wealthy corporations and power brokers in Washington and a few other major cities will do really well any time the federal government extends its reach. But everyone else tends to suffer.

So the relief we can provide, the best relief we can provide from Washington is to get Washington out of your way so that you can do what you do best and so that people will compete to provide health care services to you. When we have people competing for that, to a greater degree than we have now, the price goes down and the quality goes up. That's what we're after.

GLENN: And you believe that you are now -- or the president and Mitch McConnell are at least saying that they're on the same page with you. You're saying the same thing now. Repeal Obamacare. And we'll work on what we have to do after we peel what was put in place.

MIKE: That is exactly right. And, Glenn, I want to emphasize this point. Because a lot of people will say, why did the Republicans not have anything on day one?

The problem with this is that the one thing that always has united us has been repeal. And that's what we should have done at the outset. There never has been widespread agreement among Republicans on what should come next. So we should start with what unites us. Repeal has united us for several years. Repeal needs to be the message right now. And repeal is the one thing we can achieve.

GLENN: Okay. Great. Mike Lee, senator from Utah. Thank you so much, sir. I appreciate it.

MIKE: Thank you very much. Good to be with you.

GLENN: You bet. I personally take this as a big win. You know, to see the president within two hours and Mitch McConnell by the next morning say, "Okay. We're going to repeal." I look at that as a huge, huge win.

STU: Also, I will be introducing the clone Mike Lee Act. We need it.

GLENN: Boy, boy.

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