ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Only two Republicans, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, broke ranks with their party in today's vote. This vote does not repeal or replace the Affordable Care Act, but it sets the Senate on a course of discussing and perhaps amending a bill that would do just that. We're going to turn now to a senator who voted against today's motion to proceed, Senator Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats. And thanks for joining us once again.
ANGUS KING: Absolutely. Glad to be with you. And I got to say at the outset, I love John McCain. His statement today was just brilliant. I wish he'd voted the other way, but I think he served notice on his colleagues that he was simply voting for the procedural step to open debate and wasn't necessarily expressing support for some further version of one of these bills.
SIEGEL: Do you love his proposal to go to the Senate health committee, return to regular order and have hearings on a health care bill that presumably committee Republicans and Democrats would both take part in?
KING: Absolutely. That's exactly what we ought to do, Robert. I mean, that's the way this place is supposed to work. And by the way, it's the way John McCain's committee work. I'm on the Armed Services Committee. We had long meetings, we had hearings - hearing after hearing after hearing. We had amendments, we had votes, we had no party-line votes within the committee. It can work that way. He's absolutely right. That's the way it ought to happen.
SIEGEL: But wouldn't any bill that emerged from that process in the Senate then have to go eventually to the House of Representatives, where the Republican majority is more conservative than it is in the Senate? And wouldn't it be a bill that ultimately you could say from the outset you're going to vote against?
KING: Well, it depends on what happens. It depends on what the House decides. If they want to get something - and presumably, if there was a Senate bill that came out of a bipartisan process in the committee, there would be something there that the Republicans could support. If they decide they want the whole terrible consequence of kicking millions of people off of health insurance, then we aren't going to be able to agree. But we certainly can get somewhere working in a regular way where people have a chance to get their voices heard.
SIEGEL: Can you imagine a bipartisan process by which you and Democrats give up something that you really want - say, the individual mandate - because that's the only way to get another bill? Or is that a bright line right there that you can't cross?
KING: Well, I don't want to negotiate on the radio.
SIEGEL: Of course.
KING: But I do think that there are - I mean, I myself, since I got here in 2013, have been talking with a number of people about things we can improve and change in the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act is not perfect by any means. The problem is the response has been, we don't want to fix it. We just want to repeal it, get rid of it, throw it out. We want to cut Medicaid. And if their bottom line is severe cuts to Medicaid and a major tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, then we aren't going to get anywhere.
But if they can stop talking about repealing and start talking about fixing and really dealing with the real problems of people in our society - that's what bothers me about this. This is about real people. This is about disabled people, elderly people in my state of Maine. And that's why Susan Collins and I had to vote no today.
SIEGEL: Senator King, just briefly. If, in fact, the leadership, the Republican leadership, doesn't go along with Senator McCain and sticks with this reconciliation process, do you think they have 50 votes to pass a big health care bill?
KING: I don't think so. I think they're going to end up a month from now exactly where they are now, and that is trying to find 50 votes for various options. I think we've seen three or four now, none of which could get 50 votes. They may go to the House with - they may get 50 votes on some stripped-down bill that does practically nothing and just gets them into the conference with the House. But then whatever comes back out has to go through the Senate. I think it's very hard to get those 50 votes.
SIEGEL: Senator Angus King of Maine. Thanks for talking with us.
KING: Thank you.
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