Rep. Steve King (R-IA) talked about the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) scoring for the House Republican Obamacare replacement bill on Tuesday’s Breitbart News Daily.
“The CBO scored the last Obamacare legislation, of course, going into 2009 or early 2010, and it looks like they were off by a factor of two to one,” he told SiriusXM host Alex Marlow. “So when they roll these numbers out, and they’re rejected by the people that want them to be lower and different, they, of course, point to that, and they say the CBO is wrong.”
“What we never know with the CBO is what assumptions do they use? They have to be using assumptions in order to calculate how many more they think might be insured or how many fewer might be insured, and then also the cost up or down, and how do they get there? So you get a number, but you don’t get to look back into the formulas behind the cells in the spreadsheet,” he said.
“That’s always been a frustration to me. When I get a number that doesn’t make sense, that’s all I get is a number. Then I have to decide whether I’m going to be in support of it because it supports my agenda or opposed to it because it diminishes my agenda,” said King.
“That’s why the people that are pushing hard on this Republican rewrite plan rejected the CBO scoring,” he explained. “Maybe they were okay with saving $337 billion, but they weren’t okay with having 24 million people dropping off insurance.”
“I don’t pay a lot of attention to it,” he said. “I look at the policy and say: What is right? What’s constitutional? What shrinks government and expands personal responsibility? What strengthens the relationships between doctors and patients? And by the way, what’s missing in here that we know will do a lot of good? There are a number of good things that are missing in the bill.”
Marlow said the CBO estimate of 24 million “losing” coverage under the Republican bill is “a bunch of baloney,” but he has other reasons for objecting to the bill, including the missing features to which King alluded.
“Here are the things it doesn’t do: First, it doesn’t, of course, repeal all of Obamacare,” said King, who is leaning against voting for the bill. “That has been my mission for seven years. I wrote the first repeal for Obamacare. It’s 40 words, and it ends with these words in the last of the bill: ‘And this bill shall be repealed as if such Act had not been enacted.’”
“That’s the language that says any place where you find a word or an impact of Obamacare in a federal statute, that means it gets ripped out by the roots,” he elaborated. “And it says also that any rules or regulations that have been written on Obamacare, they’re all null and void and ripped out by the roots. Also, I wrote a separate bill to tell the courts, ‘You’re not going to be using any precedents on the litigation because that’s also as if such Act had not been enacted.’ I want it completely gone.”
“I don’t have the full line-by-line of what’s left, but I’ve got a number of things I’ve pulled out of there, and one of them is that they leave at least 12 mandates in,” he said of the House Republican replacement bill. “Now, the federal government had no insurance mandates before we went into Obamacare. We were not in the health insurance business.”
Among the surviving mandates, King counted what some critics of Obamacare refer to as the “slacker mandate,” which stipulates that “children” can remain on their parents’ insurance until they are 26 years old.
“You have the pre-existing conditions that remain. There are the ten essential services, that is all of Section 1302(b) of Obamacare, they preserve that so that it’s not repealed. Those essential services include no co-payment for doctors, mandatory maternity care, mental health, drug rehab, some of those kinds of things,” he said.
“With all of that in there, those dozen mandates in there, if we ever get to selling insurance across state lines – which also isn’t in the bill – then there will be not a lot of merit to doing so because the federal government will have so many mandates, the premium is pushed up in every state. It will be hard to find a better bargain anywhere else,” he argued.
King also criticized the “up-front refundable tax credits” in the Republican bill, which he said were tantamount to “borrowing money from China, Saudi Arabia, and the American people to pay health insurance premiums in advance.”
“They say there’s no individual mandate, but there’s a strong subsidy in putting that money out front. I oppose that. I would replace it with full deductibility,” he said.
“Right now there are roughly 175 million people that get their health insurance through their employer. That’s all fully deductible to the employer. It’s a business expense. It comes right off of Schedule C. But there remain 20.9 million people in this country who are compelled to buy Obamacare, but they have to do so with after-tax dollars,” he explained.
“So imagine, you’re paying taxes and your money is going to subsidize somebody else’s health insurance premium, and when you get done paying your taxes, the money you have left over is the pot you have to reach into to pay for your health insurance premium, which is, of course, mandatory under Obamacare,” he said.
“That part’s been lifted now, but there is a penalty. So they say it’s not mandatory, but there’s a penalty, and the penalty is a 30 percent add-on to your premium if you allow your insurance to lapse for a certain period of time,” King added.
Marlow proposed that mandating special penalties for people who decide not to purchase health insurance is not a proper constitutional role for the federal government, whether the penalties are collected by the IRS under Obamacare or insurance companies under the Republican bill.
King agreed there was not enough discussion about whether this expanded role for the federal government in American life was appropriate.
“I think one of the reasons is that we’ve watched the litigation of Obamacare come through the courts, and the courts declared first it was a tax, and then it wasn’t a tax,” he noted. “Then there was the language on the exchanges, where the federal government wasn’t written the authority to establish exchanges. They did so anyway. They were sued on that, the case was King v. Burwell. The Supreme Court decided that they could rewrite the law, and they rewrote Obamacare legislation where it said the states may establish exchanges; they effectively wrote in ‘or the federal government.’”
“We have a Supreme Court that’s demonstrated it could be a tax on one day, but when it became to repeal the bill, then it’s not a tax – or the other way around. I’d have to go back and rethink that,” he confessed humorously.
“They could write language into the bill. They could write law. And, by the way, the day after they settled King v. Burwell, they manufactured a command in the Constitution to command same-sex marriage all over America. I think we lose a little bit – well, more than a little bit. I think we lose a lot of our constitutional thinking when it’s destroyed in two decisions, back to back, on June 24 and 25 of 2015 that happened to be,” King lamented.
“There’s no enumerated power that allows the Congress to command people to buy a product that’s either produced or approved by the federal government. They can’t command your paycheck for you to purchase something and make you own it. This penalty is a command by the federal government to reach into your personal assets and purchase a product that you may or may not want, you may or may not need, and if you do not do so, then if you’re going to be insured after that, there’s a 30 percent penalty on it for a year,” he emphasized.
Marlow said the Republican bill was far from what voters were promised during the campaign season, as well as disappointing, given that the GOP had seven years to work on repeal and replacement.
“I hear that,” King replied. “I’m not optimistic about this. My job is going to be to try to make the best we can out of this. If that means in the end we can’t get it fixed and we have to be working to sink the bill, that’s one of the other ways of approaching this. We’re snowed out in Washington, D.C., right now, but as soon as I get back in town, which I expect will be tomorrow morning, we’ll be having those kinds of conversations.”
“This is a long ways away from what I expected, too, and what I hoped,” he confessed. “I had a level of assurances that made me very optimistic in the earliest days of this year that we would do a full repeal, and it would be separate from the replacement. I’ve been making the argument here for seven years: Don’t be standing out there telling people that we’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare. Separate those two operations. Don’t bind yourself into both of them together.”
“The most important thing is to sell the argument to repeal Obamacare,” he argued. “I’ve said if the only thing we did was to repeal Obamacare, and we went back to pre-Obamacare, America was better off before they saddled us with this expensive, unworkable socialized medicine plan that they put together by hook, crook, and legislative shenanigans.”
“Oh, and by the way, my repeal legislation has passed the House of Representatives – multiple times, actually, in each Congress since Obamacare was passed, except this one,” he noted. “This one they gaveled in on January 3 of this year. It’s curious that the full repeal that everybody wants to do, and that has gone past the House – not the Senate, but the House – that we can’t pass that over to the Senate and put it on Mitch McConnell’s desk and say, ‘Why don’t you see if you can work with this?’”
King said congressional Republicans were also receiving “a message from the White House, which is that he wants the repeal and the replacement on his desk the same day.”
“That’s dictating a lot of this maneuvering. Another thing is the maneuvering under reconciliation to avoid the 60-vote threshold,” he explained. “My idea is just different, and I think it’s better strategy. Get full repeal out of the House to the Senate. Get it on McConnell’s desk. Then start marching down through the reforms one bill at a time. Let’s have a debate. Let the American people look in.”
“Pass one component off the floor, such as the full deductibility for everybody that I’ve described. That’s easy,” he suggested. “Send it over to the Senate. Then pick up Paul Gosar, Congressman Gosar from Arizona’s bill, which does provide for selling insurance across state lines. Debate that for a week or a week-and-a-half. Send it over. Then we can do the tort reform, the lawsuit abuse legislation. It’s my bill, and it’s also on the calendar. Both of them have passed out of committee.”
“Send that over to the Senate, and then we can have a well-crafted health savings account bill that lets people have the freedom to invest their money in their own health savings account, lets them pay premiums out of that, and also, of course, fully deductible, the dollars that go in it,” he continued. “Let that be expanded to where they can grow that health savings account and use the assets in it to leverage catastrophic insurance premiums.”
“That way their premiums will go down. They’ll be spending a lot less money on insurance, and they’ll have a savings account that when they get to retirement, many of them would have enough money to pay for a paid-up Medicare replacement policy to take themselves off the entitlement rolls. I would say to them, if you can do that, then keep the change, tax-free, and that can be your pension plan,” King offered.
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