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The GOP's Next Step

DON GONYEA, HOST:

Senate Republicans failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act this week. Early Friday morning, three Republicans voted against the latest health care bill leaving the party without many other options. Politically, the stakes are high for the GOP, which has spent the past seven years campaigning on this effort. So what's next for Congress?

Joining us to offer one point of view is Republican Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania. Congressman, good morning.

CHARLIE DENT: Good morning, Don. Thanks for having me on the program.

GONYEA: Congressman, you're no fan of the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, but you voted against the House version of the bill that would have replaced it. I'm wondering what's your take on what happened in the Senate on Friday night?

DENT: Yeah, I was not surprised by what happened in the Senate on Friday night for a few reasons. I've always felt that the legislation under consideration was trying to do too much in this reconciliation process. That's the first thing. And there are limits as to what one can do during that type of process. But second, you know, I also felt that, you know, the president, candidly, he never provided his principles or even a plan on health care. And then, of course, he never went out and sold it.

So I think that also hurt the whole effort. Other issues too - you know, I've always felt that the House, you know, really should have been working this issue from the center out, that we should have been engaged in more of a bipartisan process. Over the years, I believe, as Republicans, you know, we always had this bumper sticker slogan repeal replace.

And after the 2012 election, I felt that once President Obama was re-elected, that the health care law was going to bake in for an additional four years and that we needed to adjust our rhetoric. Since 2012, I certainly adjusted my rhetoric and talked about, you know, partial repeals and replacements and partial replacements and reforms, retentions, overhauls and retentions of the law.

So that was always kind of the message that I was trying to drive that we had to have a bit more of a nuanced position. And I don't think that ever really quite sunk through with a lot of folks.

GONYEA: What are your thoughts on the next step in terms of overhauling the Affordable Care Act? Is repeal and replace dead and how do you move forward now?

DENT: Well, I believe now and I've been part of these groups where we're talking about bipartisan solutions. I've been meeting with groups of Republicans and Democrats to talk about ways to make some real changes to the law.

Many of us are talking about stabilizing the individual market, dealing with these cost-sharing reduction payments, reforming - seriously reforming - the employer mandate, repealing the medical device tax and finding other types of reforms that we think we can get strong bipartisan majorities to support.

GONYEA: How do you start doing that in the House, though?

DENT: We've already begun. I've been part of a group called the Problem Solvers caucus, and we've been meeting. And I know that group is probably going to make some announcements next week. And there are others. So I do believe we can make some significant reforms to the law that both sides can embrace.

GONYEA: Of course the danger for moderates is how all this plays during primary season back home in the district, right?

DENT: Most people in this country, those who love the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, those who love it, recognize there are problems with it and it needs to be fixed. Those who loathe or, you know, or who hate the ACA or Obamacare recognize that parts of this law are going to be maintained for the long-term. So that's your starting point.

GONYEA: You've been very critical of how President Trump has worked with the Congress, Republicans in Congress. I can't let you go without getting your reaction to all of the turmoil at the White House just in the past week. Reince Priebus is out. Sean Spicer left last week. What's your take?

DENT: Oh, my, where does one begin (laughter)? Yeah, well, I mean, look, there has been a lot of instability and chaos coming out of the White House. It's having a very negative effect on those of us, you know, who are actually trying to govern. I'm on the Appropriations Committee. I'm trying to make sure the government is properly funded. We need a budget. We need a bipartisan, bicameral budget agreement.

These are things that must get done. We have to deal with this debt ceiling issue as well as tax reform and infrastructure and hopefully some health care reforms. And that's where I'm focused and, of course, the overall economy. But if we're talking about all these other sideshows and distractions, it's, again, it's very exhausting and it's unhelpful and counterproductive.

GONYEA: That's Republican Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania. Congressman, thanks for talking with us.

DENT: Hey, thank you for having me. Great to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.