Rep. Tom Reed on working with Dems to fix health care
Rep. Tom Reed is the co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers which released a plan on Monday to stabilize the insurance market and fund cost-sharing subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. He spoke to City & State about the fixes the caucus is proposing, his relationship with President Donald Trump, and the future of the controversial Collins-Faso amendment in the original House health care bill.
C&S: You’re the co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers which released a plan last week to stabilize the insurance market and fund cost-sharing subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. How did you decide upon these fixes?
TR: As a group, we came to a consensus – 43 Democrats and Republicans – that we would take a formal position to deal with what we see as a concrete problem coming down the pipeline in health care, which is the destabilization of the individual market. So, through that consensus-building process and the Problem Solvers Caucus mechanisms, over the last month, we came up with a solution that we think is reasonable, narrow in scope, and is an 80 percent victory for both, but most importantly is a 100 percent victory for the American people that are caught in harm's way with these collapsing individual Obamacare health care markets, that are occurring as we speak.
C&S: Some in the Senate are also seeking to reform the Affordable Care Act on a bipartisan basis – including Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, who are aiming to pass a bill to stabilize insurance markets. Have you spoken with your counterparts in the Senate about health care reform?
TR: Absolutely. That's why I was so pleased Sen. Alexander announced a hearing in the Senate after being briefed and looking at our Problem Solvers Caucus proposal, and he is going to do a formal hearing on stabilizing the individual marketplace. So we've talked to numerous senators. I think there is a positive vibe out there starting to develop with a core group of senators to move the ball forward on this issue that we've identified and the solutions that we've put together. I know even Sen. Schumer, here in New York, has made some public comments that are very positive on the work we have done. I think that's critical to us getting something to the president's desk. Obviously, we've moved in the House, and anything we can do to get the Senate to move along I think is a positive development that we can be part of.
C&S: President Trump has predicted that Obamacare will “implode,” and has called for cutting off funding for cost-sharing subsidies. How will you ensure the president’s support for your efforts?
TR: I was one of the first of eight in the Republican Congress to endorse the president. I appreciate the relationship I have with the administration and the ability to communicate directly with them. We've expressed our concerns about the cost-sharing reduction payments – that's why it's a piece of our proposal that we're dealing with. But I understand where the president's coming from, because if the Senate does nothing, if there's no action taken, the issue of these individual marketplaces – the future of them is not positive. I think what you're seeing is a recognition of that and also a recognition of, is there a way to put more pressure on Congress to act, and in particular the Senate. I hope we don't have to go down that path. I hope we can be proactive and preventive. That's why we rolled up our sleeves at the Problem Solvers conference to at least put a reasonable, concrete, credible proposal on the table that causes a little pain on both sides, but ultimately moves the needle in the right direction to address the problems that millions of Americans today are facing. So I think there's a plan A and a plan B, and we can get to a solution that doesn't have to deal with a destabilized, collapsed Obamacare situation that forces the action on the Senate.
C&S: You voted for the American Health Care Act in March, which passed with no Democratic votes in the House. Why didn’t you pursue a bipartisan path to reform the health care system earlier?
TR: The Problem Solvers Caucus started in January. We've been taking positions on things like tax reform and infrastructure together, (and) the first government shutdown. Through the health care debate it was pretty clear that it was a very partisan environment, until we saw the gridlock come to a head, where we couldn't even address the concrete issue of the individual marketplace collapse. That was the moment in time about a month ago where we said, let's just take on this narrow issue and be part of a positive process to show the American people we can govern and we're listening to them. Just to be clear, too, I still stand for repeal of the Affordable Care Act. I think there's a better way to address health care in America. But I also recognize that we cannot let this concrete problem, which is a subset of the whole Affordable Care Act situation, go unaddressed, and we have to be proactive and be responsible legislators and govern.
C&S: The Collins-Faso amendment – which was proposed by your fellow New York Reps. Chris Collins and John Faso and was in the House and Senate versions of the Obamacare replacement bill – would have shifted costs of Medicaid from county property taxpayers to the state. Will you try to pursue similar legislation as part of your current efforts to reform health care?
TR: The Collins-Faso amendment was a critical piece of my support for the vote we took in the House. We put out a statement that said if it was stripped out of the Senate bill, when it came back we would not support that bill on the floor of the House. That's how crucial, in my opinion, it is to our local taxpayers. So, we're looking – I'm looking – for the legislative opportunities to have that issue addressed in not just this health care debate, but maybe somewhere else. But the reality of it – it gets very political, and I didn't want to bog down that process we were achieving in the Problem Solvers Caucus with that political issue. So, from my perspective, that's a fight for another day, outside the Problem Solvers Caucus' proposal, and it is something we're going to continue to look forward to have.
C&S: Have you spoken with Collins and Faso about the future of this amendment?
TR: Yes, we as a delegation communicate very well with each other. They know my full support for their amendment, and that we're doing whatever we can to assist them to try to find a vehicle – a pathway – to get that signed into law, because it's only right we do that for our local taxpayers. The whole argument coming out of the governor's office that this would lead to the largest tax increase in America's history, and that's how the governor's going to deal with it, to me that's just ludicrous. Rather than recognizing what we're trying to do is put the burden of the tax on the state Capitol – because they're the ones that control the program, they're the ones that mandate the counties on how they're going to deliver this service – they essentially just say, we're going to tell you what you have to do to the counties and the county taxpayers, and you're just going to have to pay the bill. That's not right. That's just not acceptable when you have so many taxpayers in upstate in particular that are leaving in droves because they just can't keep up with their tax payments in order to make a living because there's just lack of opportunity here.
C&S: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently announced that it will be targeting your seat in the 2018 midterm election. So far, you have six Democratic challengers running to replace you in Congress. Are you concerned by the challenge from the left?
TR: We've had the DCCC challenge us, put candidates up multiple times over the years. Obviously I defer to the people. We're just going to do our work. We're going to try to continue to listen to the voice of the 23rd Congressional District, do our town halls, be accessible, tell people where I stand on the issues, be very straightforward with them. I love the democratic process and democracy. That's what this is all about. So, not concerned about it, just a recognition that that's politics, and the more the merrier. If they're willing to step forward and run, we're happy to see that happen.