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With The Senate's Health Care Vote Delayed, What's Next For Democrats?


To health care now - both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate are complaining that they aren't working together. Here's Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaking on the Senate floor yesterday.


MITCH MCCONNELL: It's unfortunate that our Democratic colleagues refuse to work with us in a serious way to comprehensively address Obamacare's failures in the seven years since they passed it.

MARTIN: Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had this response.


CHUCK SCHUMER: We Democrats are genuinely interested in finding a place where our two parties can come together on health care.

MARTIN: So what is the next move for the Democrats? Tom Perez is the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He's with us in the studio. Thanks for coming in this morning.

TOM PEREZ: Always a pleasure.

MARTIN: Do congressional Democrats really want to work with Republicans to try to make this health care bill, the Republican Senate health bill, better? And we're not talking about the Affordable Care Act but this specific bill.

PEREZ: We always want to work together because we want to find a solution that works for people. But here's what they have to do. Number one, abandon repeal. Number two, abandon cuts to Medicaid. Abandon...

MARTIN: When you say abandon repeal, that means keep Obamacare, which is a non-starter.

PEREZ: No, I think what we have to do is understand and come to agreement on what our North Star is. For me, our North Star is very simple - are we helping the typical American family get access to quality, affordable health care? The problem with the Senate bill is their North Star is, are we giving enough of a tax cut to wealthy people? That's not what the North Star should be for a health care bill.

President Obama convened a meeting at Blair House with all the Senate members back during the debate on the Affordable Care Act. The U.S. Senate in 2009, 2010 - they held 100 hearings on the Affordable Care Act. There were 143 amendments offered by Republicans that were accepted into the final bill. You can't do this bill in secret. That's what they've done. We want to come to the table because we want to improve access to quality, affordable health care for Americans. I - we have ideas on what we can do.

MARTIN: Let's talk about those. But I want to play a clip first, from your counterpart at the Republican National Committee. This is Ronna Romney McDaniel.


RONNA ROMNEY MCDANIEL: Let's look at the evolution of this. They passed it - 30,000 pages of legislation - without reading it. They said you could keep your doctor. They said you could keep your health care plan. They said it was going to be affordable. None of that has been true. And now premiums have doubled across the country. You have insurers pulling out of marketplaces. People are suffering. And Democrats are sitting on their hands, when they created this problem.

MARTIN: So I hear you saying, Democrats acknowledge that there are problems with the Affordable Care Act, with Obamacare. No doubt, premiums have gone up in some states - in Arizona, in particular, which is often cited - up as much as 116 percent. So what is the solution? How do Democrats fix that?

PEREZ: Oh, I think there are a number of things we can do. Let's address the skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs. There's nothing in the Senate bill that does that because they're unwilling to take on the drug industry. We should take on the drug industry. Let's - we can take steps to stabilize the markets. What this administration has done is to destabilize the market by saying Obamacare is on a death spiral. We can stabilize the market...


PEREZ: And - well, first of all, by - there's an HHS inspector general investigation right now as to whether the Department of Health and Human Services deliberately tanked the marketplace. And when you have the administration constantly telling drug companies or insurance companies, we're not sure we're going to get you the subsidy, that creates uncertainty. That's why Anthem left Ohio, because they cited the uncertainty. You should...

MARTIN: But there were problems in all - with all due respect, there were problems with the Affordable Care Act even before the Trump administration came in to office.

PEREZ: And President Obama and everyone on the Democratic side has said absolutely, we have to improve it; can we improve it? But our North Star should be, are we enhancing access to quality, affordable health care for people? The CBO report clearly notes that the answer to that question is no because the North Star of this Senate bill is, let's reduce taxes for the wealthy.

Let's stabilize prescription drug costs. Let's make sure that our marketplaces are stable so that...

MARTIN: So do you think these North Stars are too divergent? I mean, when you say Republicans want to cut taxes as part of this, because they believe that that will enhance the free-market reforms that are necessary to drive down the cost of health care - Democrats just don't believe that. So is there any common ground?

PEREZ: Well, I hope there's common ground on prescription drug costs. I think - and for me, you know, health care should be a right for all and not a privilege for a few. I don't believe our Republican colleagues accept that premise. And you see that embodied in the Senate bill, which would put 22 million Americans, including 15 million next year, out of coverage.

MARTIN: Tom Perez - he's the chair of the Democratic National Committee and served as labor secretary under President Obama. Thank you so much.

PEREZ: Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.