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Republican Charlie Dent On His Reservations Over GOP Health Plan


President Donald Trump took the negotiating skills he talks about so much up to Capitol Hill yesterday. He was pitching fellow Republicans on why they should get behind the new health care bill. House Speaker Paul Ryan characterized the meeting this way. Quote, "he did what he does best, and that is to close the deal."

But the deal's not closed with every Republican. And Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania may be one of them. He hadn't quite made up his mind before yesterday. He joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us, Congressman.

CHARLIE DENT: Hey, thank you for having me. Great to be with you on the show, Rachel.

MARTIN: Did anything you heard yesterday from President Trump make you ready to support this bill?

DENT: Well, look. I went down to the White House to meet with the president, you know, at his request, along with about a dozen or so other members, you know, who are part of the - I'll say the center-right coalition of the Tuesday Group. I'm one of the co-chairs. And I, you know, I expressed to the president my serious concerns and reservations with the bill in its current form. And I said why.

MARTIN: So just explain for us, what are your big reservations?

DENT: Well, there are a number of things. The tax credits in my view are simply not sufficient to help many lower and moderate-income working Americans obtain health insurance.

MARTIN: Although on Monday night, they made a change to the bill that would increase the tax credits, at least for older people. Did that help assuage some of the concerns?

DENT: They did. Well, they made a - they created a fund. But the tax credit portion still has not been clearly defined. That would be left to the Senate. And I'm still analyzing that. But I still think that there are some issues there. But that was only - that was one issue. I also have some concerns about the Medicaid piece. You know, I've been in conversations with governors, including my own. I was on the phone at some length with Governor Kasich over the last few days.

And some of the Republican governors, anyway, had written a letter to the president - I mean, to the House leadership, which I shared with the president, their concerns that the current bill, you know, does not provide, you know, new flexibility to states. And they're also concerned that it doesn't ensure that there are the resources necessary to make sure that no one's left out. And they're concerned about this cost shift to the states. And I think it's very important that these governors' concerns be addressed. And so that was another issue.

Third issue I certainly raised with the president was that I thought that the Planned Parenthood issue should be separated from the health care bill. I don't - I've never supported the defunding movement. But the point is the health care bill is controversial and complex enough without Planned Parenthood. I think throwing Planned Parenthood into the mix makes it a challenging issue, even more difficult. So those are just a few of the concerns I raised.

MARTIN: Did you hear in that meeting with the president that he could be moved on any of those issues?

DENT: You know, I don't know. I mean, I would just say that the president listened well. And, you know, the meeting was very constructive. It was civil. And it was respectful. But, you know, again, I feel that the same comments I made to the president, I've made to my own House leadership. And they know where I stand on this.

And so like I said, I have serious reservations about the bill in its current form. True, it seems to be evolving. Some changes are better. But, you know, I'm not convinced that those changes have gone far enough.

MARTIN: Let me finish by just asking you, President Trump yesterday said, if you don't support this bill, Republican members of Congress could lose their seats, that it would be political death.

DENT: Well, you know, (laughter) they could lose them anyway, I guess. But - well, look. Any time you're going into a midterm election and you're in the same party as the president, your party typically experiences losses. That's just simply an historical fact. There have been a few exceptions. But by and large, it's an historical fact. I think that is really the challenge more than anything else.

So yes, could this issue affect the midterms? Sure it could. But so could any number of issues. So, you know, I heard that. It didn't really phase me.

MARTIN: Republican Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, thanks so much for your time this morning.

DENT: Hey, thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.