Republicans Hope For Just One Defection

No Republicans will vote Saturday night to advance the Senate's health care bill to full debate, Republican Whip Sen. John Kyl says. That leaves the fate of the vote in the hands of a few moderate Democrats, all of whom are needed to reach the 60 votes required to push the bill forward. Host Scott Simon speaks with Kyl on his party's chances of defeating the bill.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

We're joined now by Senator Durbin's counterpart, minority - in the minority leadership, Republican Whip Jon Kyl. Senator Kyl, thanks so much for being with us.

Senator JON KYL (Republican, Arizona): Good morning. Thank you.

SIMON: Why not just let the Senate open debate? I mean, isn't that what democracy's all about?

Sen. KYL: Well, the point of the greatest leverage of senators who have significant concerns with the bill is right now. As you know the bill is being - has been written here over now six or eight months, with a lot of different senators having input on the Democratic side, very little on the Republican side. But if you're a Democrat and you have a big concern, for example, about the government-run health plan, the only way you're going to get that out is by getting the leader to agree with you now before you promise him your vote.

Once you're on the bill, it takes 60 votes to amend the bill on any significant provision. And I doubt that there are 60 votes to pass virtually any amendment.

SIMON: A lot of Republicans have objected the idea of a public option for health care coverage. As we've heard a lot, Democrats have added an opt-out provision. The Congressional Budget Office said that a public option would affect just a tiny percentage of the overall population and may not even be cheaper. So why not just let it be?

Sen. KYL: Well, first of all, the government option, by the honest admission of even several members of Congress, and certainly advocate groups, is considered to be the first step in a two-step process toward a single payer system. It does get the government involved in health care in a more significant way than most Americans want. And so Republicans are fearful of the precedent that it sets.

But secondly - and this goes more to the exact function of it - it is designed to compete. The whole point of it is to be a competitor. And when you try to compete with the United States government, good luck, because they get to set the rules. They're not just the umpire, but in this case they also get to fund it, to direct it, to ensure that at the end of the day it will be competitive with the private companies.

And Luan and Associates, which is one of the most respected health care consultant groups, said that within three years, 119 million people would be covered by this government plan, 88 million of whom already have insurance provided by their employer but for whom it would be cheaper to dump them into the public plan, so that's what the employer would do.

SIMON: In their opposition�

(Soundbite of throat clearing)

SIMON: Gesundheit. In their opposition, do Republicans risk losing, indifferent to the fact that tens of millions of Americans don't have health care coverage? I mean, is there a Republican plan to address that?

Sen. KYL: Yes, and this is one of the sort of untold stories of this debate. We have offered scores of amendments in the various committees when the bill was first being written - virtually all of them rejected on party line votes. We've talked about our ideas in virtually every speech, because we're cognizant of the fact that Americans want to know what we would do as well.

So we always mentioned the ideas that we have. But our approach focuses on reducing costs first so that access is easier to obtain. And under the House Republican bill that was the only amendment that they were allowed to offer on the floor, the Congressional Budget Office itself said that insurance premiums would be reduced by $5,000.

On the other hand, studies show that insurance premiums under the Democrat bill would actually go up. And for a family in Arizona, it would go up to the tune of $7,400 a year. So we focused, first of all, on reducing the cost of insurance premiums.

SIMON: Senator Kyl, 30 seconds left - you heard Senator Durbin say he hopes he may have 60 votes. Do you know of one or two Democratic defectors that might stop him?

Sen. KYL: No, I don't know of them. But I hope that there are some Democrats from more moderate states who respect the will of their constituents, who say to them - and I just pick a state like Arkansas, for example, where�

SIMON: We're just about out of time.

Sen. KYL: �over two - by more than two-to-one their constituents oppose this. And so the question is: do they follow the dictates of Harry Reid or do they respect the wishes of their constituents?

SIMON: Senator Jon Kyl, thank you.

Sen. KYL: Thank you.

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