Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell spoke with National Review Online this evening about repealing Obamacare. He discussed his legislative strategy, Mitt Romney, and related issues. What follows is a transcript, which has been lightly edited for clarity.
Earlier this week, according to WHAS-TV in Louisville, you predicted that it will be “a lot harder” to repeal President Obama’s health-care law. Why is that the case?
Well, I don’t know how they got that comment out of what I had to say. Let me give you my view, clearly and unambiguously. Repeal of Obamacare will be the first item up in the Senate if I am majority leader. If we have a president who will sign the bill, we will do everything we can to get it off the books, and we’ll be looking for every angle that could be pursued. There has been a lot of talk about reconciliation. The Chief Justice said this is a tax, and we take him at his word, so that certainly makes this eligible for reconciliation. But that may not be the only avenue that we pursue. Our goal will be to get it off the books. In my view, it is the single worst piece of legislation that has been passed in modern times, and I’ve said that on numerous occasions. It’s still my view. And just because the Supreme Court has decided it is constitutional doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.
Should Republicans win the Senate majority, how will repeal look from a procedural perspective? What can plausibly be done through reconciliation?
Well, as I’ve said, we’re looking at all of the angles. But our goal is to repeal it and replace it. We know for sure now that it’s a tax — the Supreme Court, which has the last word on these matters, has called it a tax. We know for sure that taxes are among the things that are eligible for reconciliation. There may be different parts of it that could be pursued in different pieces of legislation, but I guarantee you that we’ll be ready on day one to attack this law, in every way that we can discover. If I’m setting the agenda instead of Harry Reid, this is a top priority.
More specifically, what does that look like as a floor strategy?
I can’t scope out all the procedural devices that would be used, nor would I want to announce them, six months in advance of the election. What I can tell you with certainty is that there is no higher priority with me, and the presidential candidate has made it perfectly clear that he would sign any repeal legislation that we sent to him. On this issue, there is a clear choice for the American people to make.
Are there certain elements of the bill that may not be eligible for repeal via reconciliation?
As I said, we’re looking at all angles. It’s a 2,700-page monstrosity. We’ll be looking at all angles and our goal will be to repeal and replace it.
Over the weekend, you and Chris Wallace of Fox News had an exchange about the uninsured, where you said that’s “not the issue.” What did you mean by that? And what is your preferred policy for covering more of the uninsured?
Our goal, number one, is to repeal and replace Obamacare. Number two, is to address the health care that the federal government has already got, which is in deep trouble, both Medicare and Medicaid. Earlier today I saw that 15 governors have now said that they’re going to opt out of the additional Medicaid mandate, now that the Supreme Court has made it clear that they have the option to do so. I think we will be looking at every angle to replace this, and what it’s replaced with, of course, depends on what the market looks like at that time. For example, the private health-insurance market has already responded on the growing demand to leave 26-year-olds on policies, because it’s turning out to be a good business decision for them. The issue of preexisting conditions has always been complex. Half of the states are addressing that with high-risk pools. I’m not convinced that issue needs to be addressed at the federal level. We will see. But job one is to replace Obamacare in its entirety, clean up the health care we’re already responsible for, and then we’ll see where we go from there.
Three years ago, when the president unveiled his health-care bill, many Republicans were initially tempted to back the effort. By the time it came to a vote, every GOP senator opposed the bill. Is the conference still united in opposition? And how will you ensure that Republicans stick with the repeal push, especially if the bill’s popularity increases?
Well, I can certainly speak for the senators who are in the Republican conference today. Without exception, I am confident that they all want to repeal and start over. We’ve had that vote, by the way. In 2011, every single Republican senator voted for it. My view is that we should try to have that vote again before the election. And I would anticipate that my conference would be where it was in 2011 when we had the vote for repeal.
Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior Romney adviser, recently told NBC News that the health-care penalty in the president’s law and in the Massachusetts program is not a tax. Do you share Fehrnstrom’s position?
The last word on what it is, that’s for the Supreme Court and they have spoken.
Republicans are often asked to articulate a clear “replacement,” their vision for the federal government’s health-care role in a post-Obamacare world. What is your vision?
There won’t be a 2,700-page Republican alternative. What the majority did in 2009 and 2010 was take a meat axe to the American health-care system. What we should have done is take out a scalpel and go step by step to make some adjustments. Among the things that we’ve mentioned is interstate health-insurance competition, which is not there today; medical-malpractice reform, to try to deal with the issue of defensive medicine. These are targeted approaches that tackle the cost of health care, which is what Obamacare completely failed to address.
Is there anything more specific on Medicare and Medicaid?
I’m hoping that the states will advantage of the option not to add massive numbers of new people to the Medicaid rolls. I’ve had a couple of town-hall meetings in hospitals this week and I’ve had a number of them over the past year. In Kentucky, we can’t handle the Medicaid patients we already have. Our health-care providers are completely distraught at the notion that, in my state for example, 400,000 people would be added to the Medicaid rolls, with 30 percent of Kentuckians receiving free health care. They can’t handle it. They can’t handle the Medicaid they have now and they certainly can’t handle this. I don’t know what our state government will decide to do, but some governors are saying “thanks, but no thanks,” now that they have the option.
On a final note, what’s your message to conservatives and tea-party activists who are suspicious of Republican leaders and their commitment to repeal?
Boy, I don’t know how they could be suspicious on this issue. Every single Republican in the House and Senate voted against Obamacare. I must have made 125 speeches about it on the floor. If there is any area where I don’t think conservatives of any stripe should be concerned, it would be this one. We’ve been clear and unambiguous about Obamacare from the beginning to the end — all of it. And I led the fight in the Senate, so I know what I’m talking about.