RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are still absorbing a report by the Congressional Budget Office laying out the costs of House Republicans' health care plan. The CBO says the proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act would reduce the federal deficit by $337 billion over a decade. But it would also leave 24 million more Americans uninsured. We're joined now by Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. Senator, welcome back to the program.
TIM KAINE: Rachel, great to be with you today.
MARTIN: You have said yourself that Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, could be improved.
MARTIN: What do you make of the Republicans' plan?
KAINE: It is a disaster. It takes it in exactly the wrong direction, Rachel, for a couple of reasons. First is 24 million people lose coverage, 14 million in the first year alone - is just horrible. And it's a complete shattering of a promise that the president has made over and over again. Nobody's going to lose coverage. Everybody's going to be better off. He has said it, I mean, senators, House members have said it. Secretary Price has said it. So the loss of coverage is devastating.
But also there's a prediction that premiums will go up significantly for seniors. Women lose coverage dramatically because of the defunding of Planned Parenthood and the elimination of a requirement that maternity care be part of insurance policies. And even this deficit number, my Republican colleagues, although many are very critical of the bill, they point out, well, but deficit's being reduced. The reason the deficit is being reduced is not because we're cutting health care costs, but we're shifting costs massively onto the shoulders of the states. I was a governor. Eight hundred-plus billion dollars of Medicaid cuts...
KAINE: ...That's going to fall right on the shoulders of Republican and Democratic governors and also shifting costs to hospitals and to seniors and patients.
MARTIN: You clearly have issues with the replacement plan. If the legislation, though, moves to the Senate, will you work with your fellow Republicans to come up with a revision?
KAINE: If we can get it into committee and sit around and propose amendments, absolutely. So I've got ideas that I want to put on the table. Part of the Affordable Care Act dealt with the drug costs under Medicare Part D, closing what was known as the doughnut hole to help seniors better afford prescription drugs. I have strategies to bring down the cost of prescription drugs under Medicare Part D. And I want to put those amendments on the table.
So if it comes over and Senator McConnell puts it into the committee - so I'm on the Health, Education, Labor, Pension Committee - I'm raring to go. I have a lot of ideas I'll put on the table. But it's not clear that that's what they're going to do. They may try to rush this to the floor and jam through a vote with no committee hearing whatsoever.
MARTIN: We'll bring you back to talk about those ideas...
KAINE: Great. Super.
MARTIN: ...And have another conversation about it. But I want to switch gears now and talk about something totally different because today, we are marking a grim anniversary. It's been six years since the civil war in Syria started. This morning, the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, which you sit on, is going to hold a hearing on the human rights situation in Syria. What questions do you want answered at this point?
KAINE: There's so many questions, Rachel. This is the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. Thirteen and a half million people have been chased out of their home, some into other countries, some into other parts of the country, and need humanitarian assistance. And nearly half a million have died. It's just a horrible atrocity. And Senators Rubio, McCain, Murphy and I are introducing a resolution today to commemorate six years of this humanitarian atrocity and call on the United States and others to do more to bring it to an end.
The kinds of questions we'll be asking, I'll be asking at our hearing this morning are first, give us an update on the status of delivery of humanitarian aid. The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution in February of 2014, three years ago now, dealing with the provision of humanitarian aid. But that resolution has not really been implemented in a vigorous way. We need to get up-to-the-date status on that.
Second, we need to get status questions about the status of peace talks. There is a - one of many efforts to try to have peace talks, to do a ceasefire and end the civil war. This is being brokered by Russia and Turkey. But reports this morning are that the talks have fallen apart.
MARTIN: Well, can I interrupt to ask you...
MARTIN: ...This resolution that you've joined with a bipartisan group of senators, it also asks the Trump administration to pursue, and I'm quoting here, "a strategy that can help bring the brutal conflict to a peaceful conclusion." That is clearly easier said than done. What do you want the Trump administration to do that the Obama administration didn't do?
KAINE: Well, one thing the Trump administration should do - and I think this is very important for the American public - is we now have ground troops engaging in combat activities in Syria. And I think those activities are very questionable from the legal standpoint. We finally need to get, after 16 years, Congress on the record in terms of the military actions that we're taking in Syria, against ISIL in Raqqa.
MARTIN: We should clarify, this is - you're talking about the AUMF, the Authorization for Use of Military Force.
MARTIN: This was the law that came to be after 9/11. It is still the law that justifies the war on terrorism across the globe.
KAINE: Well, that's - it's the law that's being used both by the Obama and Trump administration to justify military activity against ISIL. But many of us believe that it is way past time to do a new authorization to really clarify this strategy militarily. But also, what is the next step?
Because it's not just about military victory. It's what happens afterwards. What does success look like? Congress has not had to vote on it. Congress has studiously avoided voting on it. So that's one of the other issues that we'll be bringing up in the hearing today, the need to have an authorization that clarifies the military role that the U.S. is playing in Syria right now.
MARTIN: Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat from Virginia, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us this morning.
KAINE: All right, glad to be with you guys this morning. Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.