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Democratic Sen. Carper On Health Care

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Republican senators spent the week trying to rally support for their latest proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Senator John McCain announced his opposition to the bill yesterday, and that might signal the end of repeal and replace. President Trump tweeted this morning, John McCain never had any intention of voting for this bill, which his governor loves. He campaigned on repeal and replace. Let Arizona down. Senator McCain said yesterday, I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried. Senator Tom Carper of Delaware is a Democrat. And before this latest proposal, he had indicated that he was willing to work with Republicans on a health care plan. Senator Carper joins us. Thanks for being with us.

TOM CARPER: Good morning. I'm also a retired Navy captain and served in a war over in Southeast Asia where John McCain was a hero. You know, I came to the House together in '82. We serve together in Homeland Security Committee. I've always been a big fan of - an admirer of John McCain and certainly am today.

SIMON: Senator, if the Republican plan is dead, are Democrats still going to want to work with Republicans or - in what if - what they really want is the Affordable Care Act left in place?

CARPER: Well, actually I think what the American people want - I travel around the country a fair amount - here in Delaware I hear every day, why can't you guys just work together? Why don't you work together and get things done? John McCain and I and a bunch of Democrats and Republicans are in favor of something we call regular order - we haven't done it a lot on real tough issues lately - where Democrats and Republicans actually work together. Somebody has a good idea. We introduce it as a bill with bipartisan support. We have hearings - bipartisan hearings - and then actually vote on a legislation offer - bipartisan amendments. And that's - something as big as health care - is the kind of thing we need to do together rather than try to do it by ourselves.

SIMON: Yeah. So you believe bipartisan support is necessary to put health care into place for millions of Americans and not have it undone from administration to administration?

CARPER: I do. And we actually had a good demonstration of that after John cast another courageous vote about a month or so ago to stop, 51-49, the repeal-and-replace legislation. What happened in the wake of that as you know is that Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray - senior Republican, senior Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee - held a series of eight bipartisan hearings and roundtables over the last three weeks where we had insurance commissioners from all over the country - governors - Democrat, Republican governors - health care providers, insurance companies, health economists - from all over coming in and saying these are the things you need to do to stabilize the exchanges in all 50 states. And once you've done that, this is what you ought to consider doing to - in order to realize what I call the holy grail. And that is providing coverage for everybody - good, quality coverage for a reasonable price.

SIMON: Senator, in the minute we have left, group of your colleagues in the Senate rallied behind Bernie Sanders' "Medicaid for all" appeal. Do you guys, on your side of the aisle, have your own arguments ahead about standing by Obamacare or campaigning for some kind of single-payer system?

CARPER: I think an idea as big as single-payer deserves a lot of attention in hearings. My hope is that we'll do that in regular order. I was - as governor of Delaware for eight years - I was very much involved in the National Governors Association. They even let me be the chairman of the outfit. And I was also chairman of NGA's Center for Best Practice. We have 50 states. We need to use them as laboratories for democracy. And maybe before we try on a big idea for the country, might make some sense to try it in some different kinds of states and see what works, what doesn't work and learn from that.

But the Cassidy-Graham proposal - let's have hearings on that - and real hearings, not sham hearings. Let's have real hearings on single-payer. And - but also we had - we've had, like, eight-day hearings in roundtables in the last three weeks to figure out how we could stabilize the exchanges. And almost all the witnesses, governors, insurance commissioners - just about everybody agreed - these are three or four things you need to do - if you do these things, you'll bring down premiums by as much as 30, 35 percent.

SIMON: Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, thanks so much for being with us, sir.

CARPER: Thank you so much, Scott. You take care. Bye-bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.