LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
NPR's Susan Davis covers Congress, and she's here to help us understand what happens now in the House and Senate on the budget and health care debates. Good morning.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, let's start with health care. The hotly anticipated CBO score came out. What did we see, and what's been the reaction?
DAVIS: Not a ton of surprises in this report, which the top lines of this are that the Republican health care bill would, over these 10 years, save some money but would also mean that fewer Americans were insured. By CBO's estimate, 23 million fewer Americans would have insurance over the next 10 years compared to the current health care law. The hard part and the hardest part about the CBO score for Republicans is that it reassessed the changes they had made to the bill affecting pre-existing conditions and the coverage requirements under the Affordable Care Act, and essentially said yes, some people in some markets who have pre-existing conditions could be priced out of the marketplace. And that is a really devastating blow for Republicans.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: As we know, they voted on this without waiting for the CBO score. What's been the reaction to this report?
DAVIS: There's an open question of whether this bill could have passed the House had they known that this is what the CBO was going to say about those pre-existing condition protections because while the Republican Party for the past six or seven years has been unified about the idea of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, they've also campaigned on protecting the popular parts. And the pre-existing condition protections in the current law are arguably the most popular parts of the health care law.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, so what now? You know, you've got the bill in the Senate, a group of 13 senators working on it. What do you know about their efforts? Where is it going?
DAVIS: What's so interesting in the Senate is it's all kind of happening behind closed doors. These 13 Republican senators were picked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and they're meeting in secret. So we don't really know what the Senate bill is going to look like. We do know the time frame. In order to get this done, because the Senate is using a very special budget mechanism to have this bill, they really need to get it done by the August break. So we're looking about - the next two months are really the critical action time in the Senate. And if we don't start to see a bill come together by early July, they're going to be in really rough shape.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is it unusual for them to do this in secret?
DAVIS: It is unusual. The Senate is circumventing the committee process. They have not had any hearings. There is no public input. And it is notable when you consider that health care makes up about one-sixth of the entire U.S. economy. And we don't know what they're talking about.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Let's move to the budget. Does anyone in Congress from either party like this budget? It seems there's been a lot of criticism.
DAVIS: Short answer - no. There really is something in there for everybody to dislike. You know, the act of the president sending up his budget has become sort of one of the greatest political theater acts in Washington. We know that what the president has asked for is not going to become law. So the budget is really a statement of priorities and values. And what was really interesting about President Trump's budget is it wasn't really a reflection of President Trump the candidate.
DAVIS: It was much more a very traditionally fiscally conservative budget, which is more consistent with perhaps Mick Mulvaney, who is the director of the Office of Management and Budget - a very conservative Republican - not necessarily the Donald Trump on the campaign trail who campaigned on protecting things like Social Security and Medicare and campaigned on spending a lot of money on things like infrastructure projects.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What next, though? Is it going to be similar to what we saw during the Obama years where the president can ask for whatever he wants but basically Congress does what it wants?
DAVIS: Exactly. But what Congress has to do - they're going to write their own budgets. And they need to set their own priorities for the money that the government is going to spend next year. And what they need to do and why the budget matters this time is that the House and Senate Republicans really want to agree on a joint budget because if they can agree on a joint budget, that will let them create another special budget process to do tax reform. And tax reform is the other major legislative goal of both the White House and Republicans in Congress.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Where are the Democrats in this budget? Do they have leverage this time to protect some of the things that they're interested in protecting?
DAVIS: On the budget itself, no Democrat's going to vote for a Republican budget. But on these spending bills, yeah, there is a lot of room for bipartisanship. On the actual dollars that get spent, the appropriations bills, the 12 spending bills every year, they are generally passed with bipartisan support. And Democrats, yes, as the word you said, leverage. They have leverage to focus on and get some of their priorities because Republicans can't move forward without them.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, NPR's Susan Davis, she covers Congress. Thanks so much.
DAVIS: You bet.
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