Coats Vows To Push For Repeal Of Health Law

NPR's Robert Siegel talks to the new senator-elect from Indiana — Dan Coats — a Republican returning to a job he served in from 1989 to 1999. He defeated Democrat Brad Ellsworth to fill the seat vacated by Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh. Coats says that he will push for the repeal of the health care legislation passed under the last Congress. He also denies that he will be influenced by his career as a lobbyist — a job he had since he was last in office.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Joining us now from Indianapolis is Republican Senator-elect Dan Coats. Dan Coats was a U.S. senator from 1990 until 1998, when he retired. He ran this year after serving as U.S. ambassador to Germany and later, as a Washington lobbyist. Senator Coats, welcome to the program.

Mr. DAN COATS (Senator-elect, Republican, Indiana): Thank you.

SIEGEL: Senator McConnell spoke this morning of repealing and replacing the new health-care law. You campaigned saying much the same thing. The president spoke yesterday of being willing to hear some Republican ideas to modify the law. Is there any room for compromise here, or is it throw out the whole law and start over?

Mr. COATS: I think we should throw it out and start over. I think that's the desired way. Clearly, the American people have rejected this. I've, certainly, heard that firsthand through my nine months of campaigning throughout Indiana.

We do have issues that need to be addressed in the area of health care, but I think the consensus - strong consensus is that we can do that, starting over with a new bill which will be cost-effective but also can address many of the issues that exist out there in health care without a one-size-fits-all, 2,000-page bill that no one can seem to piece together to give us a clear path of how this is all going to work and be affordable.

SIEGEL: But you say everyone feels that way. The Democrats point to polls which show that almost half the people don't feel that way at all. And in some states, large majorities feel the bill should have been a lot bigger and more robust than it is. Do you really want to go back and, as the president would say, re-litigate the whole question of that bill?

Mr. COATS: Well, I think we should. I can't speak for other states. I can speak for the state of Indiana loud and clear. They have made that position known before the vote, and have turned out members who supported it.

SIEGEL: Rand Paul, the Republican senator-elect from Kentucky, has said that he would not rule out filibustering the debt-ceiling bill. When that question comes up early next year, would opposing and filibustering against an increase of the debt ceiling, would that qualify as what Senator McConnell called this morning standing together in principled opposition - or would you prefer a more pragmatic, perhaps conciliatory, approach to that?

Mr. COATS: I don't think conciliatory is the right word. But I do think we have a common concern - whether Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservative - and piling up this debt for future generations is not the direction that we ought to go. So I'm hoping that we can get some consensus on that, based on this election. If I were a Democrat, I'd be looking at the returns and saying people across America would welcome an effort to do that.

SIEGEL: Republicans in the minority in the past couple of years have invoked the threat of filibuster a lot more often than was common when you were in the Senate in the 1990s. And I wonder: Do you think that it serves the institution well to require 60 votes for every issue of consequence since your party aspires to be in the majority within a couple of years? And wouldn't Democrats do the same thing to every bill that your party wants?

Mr. COATS: I think what we need is the opportunity to debate and have an up-or-down vote on every issue. Filibustering the motion to proceed -that is, we can't even go forward and talk about an issue without overcoming or without gaining a 60-vote majority for it - I would support removing that provision. I think the American people deserve to have the issues debated regardless of which side they're on, so that they are fully aware of what their representatives and senators are voting for and voting against.

SIEGEL: That would be a change of tactics from what's happened in the past couple of years.

Mr. COATS: That would be.

SIEGEL: And you would favor that change in the way business was done.

Mr. COATS: I would support that, yes.

SIEGEL: As a lobbyist, you represented Visa and the New York Stock Exchange. Your firm said you represented the Bank of America. There was some argument about that. When matters arise, say, concerning the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, will you recuse yourself?

Mr. COATS: I've been elected by the people of Indiana to represent their interests, and that is exactly what I'll do. I have no obligation to anyone else that I have had contact with or been involved with in any way, in the past.

SIEGEL: And is there any area of lobbying that you did at all, that you think would ever lead you in the Senate to say, you know, I got paid too much money by somebody who's too big a player in that particular bill. I don't want to take part in this vote in the Senate.

Mr. COATS: Well, first of all, I was a salaried employee. I didn't take individual money from any lobby group that had association with the law firm. But secondly, I will bend over backwards not to get myself in any kind of situation where it would be a conflict of interest. I have told all of my former clients: I'm starting with a blank sheet. I am now representing the people of Indiana, and I'm not representing any client. You're welcome to come in and state your position, but nothing that I've been associated with you in the past will have any bearing on my decision going forward.

SIEGEL: Senator Coats, thank you very much.

Mr. COATS: My pleasure. Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Senator - and now Senator-elect - Dan Coats of Indiana, speaking to us from Indianapolis.

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Correction Nov. 5, 2010

The audio for this story incorrectly identifies the years Dan Coats previously served in the Senate. He served from 1989 to 1999.

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