Sen. Cornyn On Bipartisanship, Health Care

With only a couple of weeks until the elections, many races are tightening up. NPR's Robert Siegel talks with the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, about bipartisanship, health care and the future balance in the Senate.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Well, now, to the Senate and to the senator in charge of the Republican campaign effort there. Of the 100 senators, 41 are Republicans, 57 are Democrats, and two independents caucus with the Democrats. There are enough close races with Republicans polling ahead that a GOP gain of several seats is expected. Conceivably, a Republican majority, although most of the people who follow such things say that's unlikely.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas is the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and he joins us now from Houston. Welcome to the program.

Senator JOHN CORNYN (Republican, Texas; Chairman, National Republican Senatorial Committee): Good to be with you. Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: Senator Cornyn, the past couple of years, there's been almost no cooperation between Republicans and Democrats in Washington. When your party has more seats, will we see another two years of Republicans playing defense all the time, trying to block the president, rather than engage Democrats in some kind of compromise legislation?

Sen. CORNYN: Well, that's an important question, and I think, obviously, cooperation is always a two-way street. The temptation, I think, always when one party or the other controls the government is the temptation to go it alone, for example, the health care bill. So I do think that Republicans will do better in - on November the 2nd. So there will be more balance, more checks and balances, if you will. And I think opportunities for greater bipartisan cooperation.

SIEGEL: Let's talk about health care. There are a lot of your candidates out there, Republican Senate candidates, saying a repeal of what they call Obamacare, the big health care law. It's very unlikely that there are going to be votes that could override a presidential veto. So what should we expect in the way of some Republican health care proposal that might be an appeal to compromise and, in your view, improving the law that was just passed?

Sen. CORNYN: Well, already, we've seen bipartisan interest in repealing the requirement that any transaction involving $600 or more, a 1099 be issued. And, frankly, there's a lot of things in this big piece of legislation that people are now just finding out about and don't like very much.

SIEGEL: But the basic change here, the government has expanded the entitlement to health insurance. Do you hope to see that expansion undone as a matter of federal law?

Sen. CORNYN: I think the way it was done is problematic because it imposes a fine on individuals who don't carry health insurance, but it says, on the other hand, that if you get sick, that an insurance company must issue you a policy regardless of your preexisting conditions and the like, which is driving up the cost of insurance. I think the model, to me, the ideal model is one that we've seen used in companies like Whole Foods Company in Austin, Texas, using health savings accounts.

Look, I think the biggest problem here was that the way this bill was passed, people feel like their wishes were ignored, and that the messages they sent to Congress and the president...

SIEGEL: But before we leave health care, though, I hear you that you feel people disapproved of the way this bill was passed, but, in the end, there was an entitlement implicit or explicit in this legislation. Should the government retract that entitlement to millions more people to get health insurance? Is that what you will stand for in the next Congress, or no?

Sen. CORNYN: I'm for - I'm for giving individuals the opportunity by reducing cost to purchase cheaper insurance, along with a safety net, obviously, Medicaid and other health care provisions, Medicare are sacrosanct, but right now, they're doing a lousy job of giving people access to health care. What I do not want to see is the government continuing to expand its role. I'd rather see it left in the hands of consumers and the private sector, where people have more choice.

SIEGEL: But including the choice not to be insured.

Sen. CORNYN: Yes. I think that the individual mandate is probably unconstitutional. Of course, that will be litigated all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court because we've never said the federal government had the power to force an individual American citizen to buy a government-approved product under the Commerce Clause or under any other provision of the Constitution.

SIEGEL: Senator John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the Republican National Senatorial Committee, thank you very much for talking with us.

Sen. CORNYN: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: And we hope to speak in the coming days with the senator running the Democrats' reelection efforts. That is Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

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