Business for Breakfast, Cory Gardner, March 2, 2017

Station: KDMT, 1690am

Show:     Business for Breakfast

Guests:  Gardner, Cory


Date:     March 2, 2017


Click Here for Audio

HOST JIMMY SENGENBERGER:  U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner joins us from Washington D.C..  Yesterday Sen. Gardner met with Pres. Trump and a number of other Republican leaders in Congress and in the administration, and you know what? I think it’s just fantastic that we get to talk to you after that experience.  Sen. Gardner, welcome back to Business for Breakfast.  How are you doing this morning?

U.S. SENATOR CORY GARDNER:  I’m doing great!  Thank you for having me on this morning.

SENGENBERGER:  Thanks for joining.  So, let me ask you of yesterday’s meeting with the President and some of the other members of the leadership.  It was a leadership meeting in Congress with the President.  What went on in that meeting?  What can you tell us?

GARDNER:  It was a conversation about moving forward on finding a way to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.  It was a conversation about the tax reform and what the timing of both of those measures would be, and how the White House and the Congress can come together to find what should be a bipartisan solution to fix a law that, as the CEO of Aetna insurance said, is in its death spiral.

SENGENBERGER:  Yeah, it definitely is one of those issues that is catching the consternation of a great many Americans and folks, of course, in Washington DC.  How likely are we to see the repeal and replacement?
There has been talk, for example, a couple weeks ago, former Speaker the House John Boehner said, “Oh, I think that they’re not to repeal Obamacare.  They’re really just going to put a conservative box around it.”  How likely are we to see an actual repeal and replacement come into effect, Sen. Gardner?

GARDNER:  Well, I think next week, the House of Representatives are going to see committee hearings that start on the replacement plan.  This is an idea that will go through regular order, through committees, and have an opportunity to be openly debated and talked about — something that is completely different than what happened six years ago when the Affordable Care Act was written behind closed doors and the leadership offices, and then crammed down on the Senate floor directly.  So, this is something that is going to go through an open process — regular order, and you’ll start seeing that next week in the House of Representatives, as they debate it, move it to the floor, and then — for passage — and into the Senate in several weeks.

SENGENBERGER:  So, what might repeal look like?  Obviously, the bill hasn’t made its way out onto the floor or to committee, as — next week — we’re expecting now it to take place in the House.  What components do you think will be included in that legislation?

GARDNER:  Well, there is kind of three buckets that we can act upon.  These are three overarching buckets that we need to see some steps taken place to make this fixed, to get to replace the system that we have now.   The first bucket is a bucket known as reconciliation.  It’s a fancy way of saying that it only needs 51 votes, and there are only certain things that you can do, limited by rules of the Senate and the House under this process. So, this will primarily deal with some of the funding mechanisms.  That will take 51 votes.  We’re walking through and making sure that we don’t violate any procedural rules that would lose that 51 vote threshold.  The second bucket is executive action — what Pres. Trump and Tom Price can take through the White House in terms of executive actions on health insurance, competition, rebuilding the individual market.  And then the third bucket are things that can only be done with the 60 votes, if there’s a filibuster.  So, things that might take a bipartisan support.  And it’s very clear that what the plan is shaping up to be would be to empower the states, right now, to give them greater flexibility over Medicaid dollars, to put in place some kind of a program were the Medicaid would be given to the states at their direction, without being forced to go to the federal government for waivers.  It will focus tremendous amount of attention on rebuilding the individual market competition within the workplace, using a tax credit method, to help people be able to afford their insurance, using a health savings account which is wiped out by –in large part, by the Affordable Care Act, to help manage those dollars, those costs and that care, and then move the focus away from simply a discussion of, “Do you have coverage?” to a discussion of whether you actually have access to healthcare with the coverage that you have.  Right now, people may have coverage, but they can afford to use it!  So, that’s a conversation that I think we’ll be able to fix and see over the next few weeks.

SENGENBERGER:  We’re talking with U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, here on the program.  You know, I think when we look at Obamacare repeal and replacement, there is some deep division about this, among some quarters of the country, in that you have folks on the right who are certainly advocating for repeal and replacement, something that they would argue Republicans in Congress were elected to do and Pres. Trump was elected to do in November.  But we have folks on the left who are taking a contrary perspective, as you might expect.  And there are many who are protesting or attending different events and so forth out.  What do you have to say to both sides in regards to why it’s beneficial for repeal and replacement in this sense:  first, for those who advocate for it, have you been, in your mind, actively involved in trying to get repeal and replacement, kind of working its way through — to the extent that you can is one individual senator in the United States Congress?  And then, on the other side of the equation, what do you say to those who are concerned — legitimately concerned — that maybe they’ll lose access to care, they’ll have some troubles because of what they’ve been hearing about the consequences of replacing Obamacare?

GARDNER:  It is a big question.  And I think I’ll start with this: 750,000 Coloradans had their healthcare plans canceled that they were promised they were going to be able to keep, hundreds of thousands of Coloradans have seen their health insurance costs increase dramatically, even though they were told that their costs would decrease.  And now, we have many counties that only have a choice of one healthcare provider to choose from — one insurance coverage option to choose from.  And next year, we know that a number of plans are going to be withdrawing from the marketplace and they may not even have a single plan to choose from.  So, this is – this is, indeed, the Affordable Care Act in its death spiral.  So I hear from people on both sides of this issue:  people who like the Affordable Care Act because it covers, maybe, something that the they are concerned about with a pre-existing condition, or people who dislike Obamacare because of the fact they simply were paying $300 several years ago, they’re paying $1500 now with $8000 deductible, they don’t get to use their insurance because they’re out 20,000+ dollars before they can even go into the hospital, or use their insurance.  So, what we can do, though, is find a system that works. Just because we have the Affordable Care Act, doesn’t mean that it’s the best thing.  And I think we should find something better. It’s proven that it’s not the best thing.  So, we can, under this plan, find a way to help people with pre-existing conditions find a way to utilize risk pools and tax credits to offset the cost of people’s insurance who can’t afford it, or people with the pre-existing conditions, to make sure that they can find affordable, usable health insurance, and then find a way to make sure that we address the Medicaid expansion that is going to break the states and the coffers of the federal government, if done improperly and just a left at status quo.  So, you know, I agree.  This should be taken very seriously, because a lot of people have an interest and it’s very — our healthcare, it’s part of us, right?  So, let’s do this right.  But let’s not just keep what we have if it’s not working!  Let’s find a way to make it work better.

SENGENBERGER:  You know, Senator Gardner, there has been some discussion among –folks in the media have really been presenting this, that you have been sort of MIA in terms of really being responsive to constituents because you’re not supposedly holding town halls, right now, and so forth — that you’re almost dodging constituents.  Is that the case, and what’s going on?

GARDNER:  I met with thousands of Coloradans last week, up and down the front range:  hundreds of the Governor’s Ag Forum, hundreds in Fort Collins, had meetings – individual meetings and group meetings– up and down the front range, last week.  I was in Eastern Colorado –Burlington and Fort Morgan — holding public meetings.  And so, [I] will continue to get out to meet with constituents, to hear what’s on people’s minds.  And we held a town hall – a tele-town hall — yesterday with 10,000 people who participated.  We’re not shying away from tough questions.  We want to make sure that we hear what’s on people’s minds, and we’ll continue to.  So, you know, I understand people are passionate.  I understand people are wanting their voice heard.  And I hope they’ll continue to contact our office to do so.

SENGENBERGER:  So, with regards to Obamacare repeal and replacement, how much do you think we’re going to be able to replace Obamacare with, in terms of some of the subsidy programs –replacing that with maybe tax credits, with the health savings account expansion, with Medicaid flexibility, as you were talking about, the block grants, and so forth, with regard to some of the taxation, the employer mandate, the individual mandate — those kinds of things.  What is the scope that we can expect?

GARDNER:  Well, I think that’s — we’re still working through the Senate procedural rules on reconciliation –what exactly we can do. But we know we can eliminate the individual mandate.  We know we can dramatically decrease the cost of some these federal entitlement programs on the backs of states and the federal government, while making sure that we provide care to people.  And we also make sure that we provide consumer choice and rebuild the competition in the individual market that was crushed by the Affordable Care Act.   When you’re talking about the individual market, you’re talking about 6% of people who are covered, who have some kind of healthcare coverage.  The majority of coverage is delivered through Medicaid, Medicare, employer-based health care plans.  And about 6% is delivered through the individual market.  That’s really the percentage of people who may be most concerned with pre-existing conditions, or in terms of how this new policy is going to work.  And it’s also that the section that was most damaged by some of the critical elements of the Affordable Care Act.  They can get more and more difficult to provide a [sic] insurance policy that was actually competitive and affordable.  So, we’ll focus a lot of attention on rebuilding that individual market.  Once we start having more competition — full competition within the marketplace – it’s going to drive down healthcare costs even further.  And that is going to have long-term benefits.

SENGENBERGER:  Real quick, Sen. Cory Gardner, our guest here on Business for Breakfast, tax reform.  You said that that came up at the meeting yesterday.  What is the timeline we’re looking for in that regard, and what may we be able to expect once it does ultimately come to the floor?

GARDNER:  And that really was the focus of the discussion yesterday with the president, was the timeframe, because we need to move forward with the replacement of the Affordable Care Act so that we can then clear the deck for tax reform.  Under our budget process, what we’re going through — this reconciliation process — we have to complete that before we pass a new budget to address tax reform, because once you pass a new budget than it wipes out the ability to use reconciliation on healthcare.  So, it’s a complicated area of procedure, unfortunately.  But we need to make sure that we’re through with the healthcare debate before we moved tax reform.  So, I anticipate after the Easter break period to return to tax reform and start having a serious conversation about how we can lower tax rates, consolidate thee tax brackets, and get government out of people’s pockets, so that they can invest money that they see fit.

SENGENBERGER:  Infrastructure is one of those issues that President Trump mentioned in his address to Congress just a couple of nights ago.  And it is an issue that certainly is something that could potentially affect folks in Colorado in terms of I-25, maybe — widening that, in terms of I-70, some of these major highways that we’ve got in the state.   Any thoughts on what we might be able to expect in Colorado as far as infrastructure?

GARDNER:  Infrastructure is very near and dear to the President.  It was clear that conversation.  We didn’t get into any detail.  But certainly, he followed up on his comments from the State of the — I guess, the joint address – the joint session of Congress where he spoke of infrastructure.  In Colorado, we have such a great need for additional transportation dollars. My Gosh!  For one of the fastest-growing states in the union — we have some of the fastest growing cities in the country.  Just a couple years ago, if you look at Greeley, Loveland, and Fort Collins, I think those three cities are were all in the top 10 or 15 highest growth cities in the nation.  And yet, you have an interstate highway system that looks pretty much like it did in the 1960s.  So we passed — for the first time in 18 years — a long-term, bipartisan highway bill last Congress.   We need to build on those successes, find ways to bring additional dollars to our highway needs, because whether you’re looking at, you know, the 470 expansion lanes, the I-70 corridor up in the mountains, if you’re looking at I-25 N. or I-25 S. to Colorado Springs, we have a heck of a lot more people using the same exact roads.  And either it’s going to give on the side of people deciding not to do business in Colorado because they don’t have access to good transportation systems, or we do the right thing, and that’s improve our systems, gain efficiencies, use new technologies, and people will continue to call Colorado home, and do so in ever-increasing opportunities.

SENGENBERGER:  Final question for you, Senator Gardner, since I know we are out of time, here, on the program.  And [I] appreciate you taking the time this morning to join us.  How would you describe the relationship that you’re developing with President Trump?  Obviously, you’re not able to talk with him on a regular basis because you’re one United States Senator and he’s got many people to be able to talk with.  But you have been known to be critical of Pres. Trump in the past.  How is that relationship developing?

GARDNER:  Well, I think we’ve got a great opportunity to work together and I certainly want to make sure that, regardless of who is in the White House, that we’re in a good position to represent Colorado values.  And that’s what I care most about, is making sure that we have that strong Colorado voice at the leadership table here in the Senate, and at the White House. And so, [we’ve] got a very good working relationship, opportunities to fight for Colorado values.  That’s clear about — in our discussion yesterday at lunch.  And [I’m] looking forward to more successes between the White House, the administration, and Congress, as we fight for those things that we need in Colorado:  a growing economy, reduce taxes, reduce regulations, making sure that we have a healthcare system that gets out of the way [and] gives people the empowerment to choose what they want.  And so, look.  I think we’ve got good opportunities ahead.  And the President gave a tremendous speech on Monday where he talked about that unity that is going to bring the country together.  And that’s a focus he started with on November 9.  And going forward, if that’s the focus, I think great things can be done.

SENGENBERGER:  Sounds like you’re pretty optimistic — or pretty bullish, sort of like the markets right now.

GARDNER:  Well, you know what?  The markets are reflecting, I think, a consumer confidence and a business owner confidence that hasn’t existed for very long time because they finally see [a] Washington that’s trying to get out of the way.  It’s a good thing!

SENGENBERGER:  All right, Senator Gardner.  Thanks so much for taking the time today to join us.  We appreciate it!

GARDNER:  Hey, thanks, Jimmy!  Thanks!  Take care!

SENGENBERGER:  Sen. Cory Gardner, here on Business for Breakfast, on Money Talk, 1690 a.m., exclusive here on KDMT.  We’re going to take a quick break.  When we come back, we’ll check in with Bill Thorpe for our very first Business for Breakfast update.  We’ve got a lot more coming up ahead, here on the program.  So, don’t go anywhere!