Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a top conservative in the U.S. Senate, unloaded on House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Obamacare 2.0 replacement plan—that does not repeal Obamacare—in an exclusive interview on Wednesday with Breitbart News.
In the interview, Paul accused Ryan of misleading President Donald Trump on the process and the level of support in the House for the bill that House GOP leadership—at Ryan’s direction—put forward this week.
The House Freedom Caucus was publicly against this strategy before Ryan even rolled it out. The group of more than 40 House conservatives remains steadfastly opposed to Ryan’s plan on this front, showing no signs of breaking as they signaled before it was introduced, and now many Republican offices outside the House Freedom Caucus privately tell Breitbart News that as many as 70 or more House Republicans are opposed to Ryan’s plan.
Leadership knows this too, they say, as all the “hard no” votes have told the Speaker’s office or the whip teams they cannot vote for this bill. But Ryan is plowing forward, stating at a number of press conferences this week he is confident he will receive the 218 votes he needs to pass the bill—even though he clearly does not have them right now.
When asked what Ryan’s strategy is here, Paul told Breitbart News it makes no sense—and that he believes that the Speaker is deliberately misleading President Trump into thinking he has more support for this bill than he has, and that its fate is not in crisis.
Paul is confident that conservative House and Senate Republicans will stick together, defeat this bill, and then work with President Trump to separate repeal and replacement into different bills passed on the same day down the road. The fact that Paul is saying Ryan is misleading Trump is an explosive charge, but is backed by the evidence of widespread mistrust in the House GOP conference over this bill and Ryan’s waning influence as Speaker—dislike of it extends far beyond the House Freedom Caucus, as Breitbart News can confirm.
Paul told Breitbart News:
I don’t think it makes any sense and I think he’s trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the president. I think when I’ve spoken with president Trump, I think he agrees with me that we should repeal and replace but I don’t think he’s stuck on that they have to be in the same bill necessarily. Paul Ryan, I think, is selling it to the White House and telling the White House, ‘Oh, it’s a piece of cake, it’s a done deal.’ And I don’t think that’s an accurate depiction of things. I think from the very beginning combining repeal and replace in one bill makes it very hard because we have different ideas on replace. We are pretty much united on repeal, but we have different ideas on replace. If the House leadership had come forward and talked to conservatives beforehand, I think they would have found out there is a lot of disagreement and they would have just passed what we already passed—what everybody voted for—and we also have a debate on the same day on a variety of replacement strategies. We still could do that. And I think if the House Freedom Caucus and the Senate conservatives stay together, I still think that that’s one possible outcome. It would be better for all of us if we separated it out with clean repeal and had replacement as a separate bill.
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) March 8, 2017
A senior congressional aide in a House Republican office whose member is not part of the House Freedom Caucus told Breitbart News his boss is also opposed to Ryan’s Obamacare 2.0, and that there is much more widespread Republican opposition to Ryan’s plan than leadership originally expected.
“I think you’re looking at 60 to 70 noes right now on the floor,” the aide told Breitbart News. “The phone lines have been blowing up with opposition to what they’re calling Ryan-Care. This is a hell of a Mexican standoff—it’s Freedom Caucus versus Trump, and Ryan who I think is driving the process. Who blinks here? It’s bigger than the Freedom Caucus but the Freedom Caucus has planted their flag on this one. Who’s going to blink first?”
A second GOP congressional aide in another non-House Freedom Caucus office told Breitbart News their boss is against it as well, and that Ryan has “way more than 70 not with him.” These two offices and others that are not part of the Freedom Caucus but are opposed to the legislation told Breitbart News that the only reason they are not publicly coming out against the bill is because they do not wish to create more chaos around this legislation. If Ryan keeps doubling down, and forcing a vote on this, it will get worse, they say.
A staffer in a third GOP office with a member not in the Freedom Caucus but opposed to the legislation even said staff is keeping the member off television to avoid getting connected to Ryan’s Obamacare 2.0. These numbers show that the Speaker has a serious problem inside his conference and has not thought this through.
Paul opened his exclusive interview in his U.S. Senate office in the Russell Senate Office Building by explaining exactly what is wrong with Ryan’s Obamacare bill, a bill he calls “Obamacare Lite.” He said there are four major reasons that Ryan’s bill is wrong; specifically that it creates an entitlement program, that it does not effectively handle Obamacare taxes and even keeps the Cadillac Tax indefinitely, the keeping of Obamacare’s individual mandate, and the keeping of Obamacare’s risk corridors—but simply renaming them.
Paul told Breitbart News:
I think the reason why the House leadership bill is Obamacare Lite is because it retains subsidies. Obamacare had subsidies for people to buy insurance. In the Paul Ryan bill, they keep the subsidies—they just call them refundable tax credits. Some people are predicting that it’s actually going to be more expensive than the subsidies we have under Obamacare. This isn’t you getting your own money back, this is you getting somebody else’s money. So, a family that makes $30,000 a year could actually get $14,000 that they didn’t pay. Let’s say they paid zero in income tax, they could get $14,000 back. One, we don’t have the money—it’s a new entitlement program and two, if you get $14,000 back do you think the insurance company is ever going to sell insurance for less than $14,000? That becomes the floor. So, it actually pushes insurance rates up—it doesn’t allow insurance rates to fall. So, that doesn’t allow insurance rates to fall and it sets up a new entitlement. The second thing that Paul Ryan’s Obamacare Lite bill does is they keep the Obamacare taxes—all of them—for a year. And then after a year, they keep the Cadillac Tax forever. That’s the tax on if you have really good insurance, Obamacare taxes that. So will Paul Ryan’s plan. The third thing they do that is Obamacare-like is they keep the individual mandate. It seems like every Republican says they were against the individual mandate. That’s if you didn’t buy insurance you had to pay a penalty to the government, a tax. Obamacare Lite, Paul Ryan’s plan, just changes it so you have to pay a penalty to the insurance companies. I consider that to still be a mandate that isn’t consistent with those of us who want less government involvement. So they keep the subsidies, they keep the taxes, and then they keep the mandate. Then the fourth thing they do is they actually subsidize the insurance companies. Right now, insurance companies are losing money and Obamacare has this rescue thing called ‘risk corridors’ to bail out the insurance companies. Paul Ryan has got the same thing, he just calls it reinsurance and it’s $100 million worth. I predict that might not even be enough. So I don’t like any of it. Now, I do think we agree as Republicans on repeal. But I don’t think we agree on the replacement. That’s why I say we should separate them, vote on repeal and then vote the same day on a separate bill that’s called replace.
Paul specifically told Breitbart News more about the argument that Ryan’s bill creates an additional entitlement program. He said that, while the House GOP leadership calls it a “refundable tax credit,” it functions in much the same way as Obamacare’s subsidies. Paul said:
It’s called a refundable tax credit and I think it’s the same as subsidies. What it is is if you pay nothing in income tax, when you get to the end of the year and you didn’t owe anything in income tax, you can get up to $14,000 back from the government. But the government doesn’t have any money. So it’s just like Obamacare, they put the subsidies at the federal government level. We’re actually $20 trillion in debt, we’re running a $500 billion deficit, we borrow a million dollars a minute. We don’t have any money to give anybody. So even if everybody said ‘oh we have to give people money and we should keep the Medicaid expansion and all that,’ someone should be honest about it and find where is the money going to come from. So, for example, that’s one of my complaints about Obamacare in general is that it’s a dishonest accounting. They said poor people need help. I agree. I want to help them by lowering the price of their insurance. But they said ‘no, no we want to give them dollars for Medicaid expansion and to buy insurance with subsidies.’ The problem is there is no money to give them so we just add to the deficit. The main thing driving the deficit up here are the entitlements. So I think Paul Ryan’s refundable tax credits are just a new entitlement program.
Paul also said he believes the concern—confirmed by Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA), a proponent of Obamacare 2.0, on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight on Tuesday evening—that illegal aliens will have access to Medicaid funds under Ryan’s bill is in fact a “valid concern.”
“I think that is a concern—a valid concern,” Paul told Breitbart News. “And I don’t think illegal immigrants—nor do I think we should be admitting people and putting them on welfare. We have enough poor people in our country without importing more people from around the world onto welfare.”
When asked if it is too late for Ryan to withdraw this bill and approach repealing and replacing Obamacare in a manner Republicans campaigned on for years, rather than in this convoluted way, Paul said: “No, I don’t think so.” And Paul believes that President Trump will be willing to bargain, given the fact that Ryan’s bill is unlikely to pass either chamber of Congress, according to many Republicans party-wide.
“President Trump has indicated look, his career in business has been about negotiating deals,” Paul said. “My guess is he realizes this is going to take some negotiation. He seems to be very open to hearing from conservatives. He’s been inviting my input and I’m aware he’s been inviting input from different members of the House Freedom Caucus as well.”
Paul also said that the goal here is not to kill any person’s bill or stop repeal of Obamacare—and that Ryan’s recklessness jeopardizes GOP chances to repeal and replace Obamacare. “The goal is to get one that passes,” Paul said. “I think they’re going in the wrong direction, but I think a clean repeal could pass again.”
When asked if President Trump is more open to the withdrawing of the leadership bill for his suggested approach to repealing and replacing Obamacare, Paul told Breitbart News: “I think so.” If Trump begins listening to conservatives, he argues, then he believes the president will change course and drop Ryan’s bill for one that has a better chance at success. Paul added:
I think what has to happen, and this is just beginning is that conservatives need to get in front of the president. So far it’s been leadership, which are mostly the establishment Republicans. I just think he needs to hear from some conservatives and he will realize there are many different issues. I think he does realize there are many different issues and many different factions out there. It’s complicated. You got to get them all on one page for one bill. It happened 14 months ago, we all voted for clean repeal. So I think there’s at least some evidence people will vote for a clean repeal bill.
Paul said that Republicans should pass a clean repeal bill and a replacement bill all on the same day, but he does not believe Ryan’s vision for Obamacare replacement is one that can gain widespread support inside the Republican Party.
“Everybody wants repeal and that’s what I keep telling people,” Paul said. “We’re united on repeal, we’re just not united on the replacement part. To me, it makes evidently good sense to divide them, because I don’t think we’re coming to an agreement. If Paul Ryan were sitting right here with us, I don’t think we’d have an agreement on replace, nor do I think we will, because his ideas are Obamacare Lite and conservatives in this country just aren’t for that.”
Trump is reportedly heading to Kentucky this weekend as part of what seems to be a feckless effort to pressure Paul into backing down. It comes after Trump Tweeted at Paul on Tuesday evening.
I feel sure that my friend @RandPaul will come along with the new and great health care program because he knows Obamacare is a disaster!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 8, 2017
While Paul said he welcomes the president to Kentucky if he is indeed headed there, and that he supports the president on a number of fronts, he will not back down when it comes to battling Obamacare and fighting to repeal and replace the healthcare law.
Paul told Breitbart News:
We welcome the president to Kentucky. He’s very popular in Kentucky. And one of the reasons he’s very popular is he has said he will fight for the families who work in the coal mines. The first regulation we repealed was something that would have hurt our coal miners even more and I went to the White House and supported the president on that. I’ve supported the president on the overwhelmingly conservative cabinet that he’s put forward. I’ve supported the president on really, virtually every issue so far so I think we actually have a good relationship and I think there’s a possibility for continued negotiation with him.
The grassroots Americans who propelled Trump into the White House after electing Paul to the U.S. Senate in 2010 and again in 2016—as well as powering GOP majorities in the House and Senate—are with him and the conservatives, Paul said. The grassroots nationwide are not with Ryan and the leadership plan. He went on to say:
I think this is big, and I think it becomes bigger over time as the more people hear about it and the more people begin to talk about it. When the Tea Party movement started back in 2009, we had hundreds of thousands of people showing up mostly unhappy with Obamacare. When they find out that the House leadership wants to keep part of Obamacare, they’re going to be livid. So every day they’re hearing about it and every day I think the voice is going to become stronger. But I still think there’s common ground. I think Republicans by and large have been for repeal. Let’s just do a repeal bill.”
And Paul is slightly shocked that Republicans have not thought this through more clearly when they have had seven years to get here. He said, “Some of us did think we had a thought through strategy because we voted on it 14 months ago. We thought we were going to get the same thing. And I think it would have been very easy for leadership on both sides—House and Senate—alright guys, men and women, we voted on this once and we’re going to do it again. Then we’ll come up with ideas for replacement strategies. I think in some ways they just got a little bit ahead of themselves by thinking ‘oh, we’ll just stick all these replacement ideas in the repeal package’ which would be fine if they were replacement strategies we all agree on like health savings accounts. We all agree on that. Stick that in there, I’m fine with that. Get rid of some of the regulations, I’m fine with that. But I’m just not fine with creating new government programs. And I don’t think conservatives are going to back down on this. Conservatives are going to say, look, if you guys want that I think it’s going to have to be a separate vote.”