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Health Bill Faces Uphill Battle in Senate; New Agreement for Safe Zones in Syria. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired May 5, 2017 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:08] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to get this passed through the Senate. I feel so confident.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: On to the Senate. The Republican bill to repeal and replace Obamacare faces a steep climb. We'll look at what's in the bill, what's not, and whether it can ultimately pass the Senate.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Dave Briggs. Great to have you back!

ROMANS: Thank you. Nice to be back.

BRIGGS: You battled through the flu in one day.

ROMANS: Did anything happen yesterday? Did I miss anything?

BRIGGS: You missed nothing.

ROMANS: I missed nothing.

BRIGGS: Nothing at all.

It is Friday, May 5th, Cinco de Mayo, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

And you didn't miss much. This morning it's just the battle to repeal and replace Obamacare. It begins anew, now in the Senate.

Conservative and moderate Republicans will try to forge a compromise that will get them to 51 votes. No small task, folks, given there are only 52 Republicans in the Senate. The open question here -- how much of this newly passed house bill, including last-minute changes on pre- existing conditions, will even really end up in the Senate version?

Senators warn some parts might not fit under budget reconciliation rules that allow them to pass bills, which is 51 votes as opposed to 60. Despite the obstacles ahead, President Trump declared his optimism overnight. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think we'll get it through. The Republicans are very united, like seldom before. I mean, you see that today. The Republicans came together, all of a sudden, two days ago, and it was like magic. They're very, very united. You saw that today, and you'll see it again.


ROMANS: All right. This bill is just full of policy changes, including eliminating certain taxes on the wealthy, deep Medicaid cuts, and allowing higher premiums on older people.

With that in mind, Republican Senate leaders are already saying they will take a different path from the House, building consensus with an unrushed, deliberative process, and they say they won't begin floor action until the Congressional Budget Office, the CBO, scores the bill's cost and its impact on the uninsured, a process that could take weeks.

Again, huge changes. This bill is essentially, though, a skeleton. It will be up to the Senate to figure out where to put the meat on the bones.

We begin our coverage with the latest from Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill.



Well, House Republicans and have been promising and campaigning on repealing and replacing Obamacare for the last seven years, so this is certainly a significant legislative win for them, but to note, this a short-term victory. There still is a lot of work to do, and the battle now heads over to the Senate, where they will take up this bill for consideration.

And that's something that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan spoke about and alluded to when he was celebrating this win in the Rose Garden with President Trump.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Today was a big day, but it is just one step in this process, an important step. We still have a lot of work to do to get this signed into law. And I know that our friends over in the Senate are eager to get to work.


They are. We're going to see that work through. You know why we're going to see this work through? Because the issues are just too important, the stakes are just too high.

SERFATY: And as the Senate now gets started on their piece of the work in all this, many Senate Republicans are already expressing concern, not only of the process of how the bill got over to them, the fact that it wasn't scored by the CBO, the fact that many of them felt it was rushed, but also about the policy of this. Many senators describing the House bill as just a starter piece, a skeleton.

So, that's the big question now -- how much of the House bill will the Senate actually keep? Very clear they are setting themselves up to make significant potentially dramatic changes -- Dave and Christine.


ROMANS: All right, Sunlen Serfaty.

She mentioned, you know, this was passed without a CBO score. The Congressional Budget Office has not evaluated the GOP health care bill. That didn't stop House Speaker Paul Ryan from hastily calling a vote and shepherding this measure through, not exactly a tactic he endorsed eight years ago when he was trying to stop Obamacare from passing.

Let's listen.


RYAN: I don't think we should pass bills that we haven't read, that we don't know what they cost. And if you rush this thing through before anybody even knows what it is, that's not good democracy. That's not doing our work for our constituents. We shouldn't rush this thing through just to rush it through for some artificial deadline. Let's get this thing done right.


ROMANS: It took 17 months, by the way, for the Obamacare bill to finally get through. It took 17 months of work.

On June 23rd, 2009, Ryan signed a letter to the director of the CBO, demanding a wide-ranging analysis of the Affordable Care Act, which then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi was trying to pass.

My, how times have changed when a different party's in power.

BRIGGS: Yes, you know, it wasn't just Paul Ryan. It was the entire Republican narrative.

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: And even Nancy Pelosi said we have to pass this thing to find out what's in it.

But Lindsey Graham tweeted about that. He said a bill finalized yesterday has not been scored, amendments not allowed, and three hours final debate should be viewed with caution.

[04:05:06] He was not happy with the process.

ROMANS: It's interesting, though --

BRIGGS: Let alone the policy.

ROMANS: Some of the supporters are saying this is the skeleton, this is the vehicle by which they are expecting the Senate to come up with the real policy, with the real plan, which means we can't tell you if you work for a small business what that's going to mean for you. We can't tell you what it means if you have a pre-existing condition, what it's going to mean for you, if you have diabetes, if your kid is sick. We can't tell you because this bill doesn't solve that yet.

BRIGGS: You almost get a sense they're starting from scratch in the Senate. But it was step one in the battle to repeal and replace. The House vote on Thursday did represent the first significant legislative win --


BRIGGS: -- though, no doubt, for this president. He decided to spike the football, Mr. Trump marking the occasion by taking a victory lap back home in New York City for a shipboard event with the Australian prime minister.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny has more from the USS Intrepid.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, President Trump came back to New York last night with a spring in his step after the House passed his version of the health care bill. Of course, he talked about it before leaving Washington. He was delayed coming to New York City to meet with the prime minister of Australia.

When he did sit down with him, he had health care on his mind.

TRUMP: Could change a little bit, could get maybe even better. It's a very good bill right now. The premiums are going to come down very substantially. The deductibles are going to come down. It's going to be fantastic health care.

Right now, Obamacare is failing. We have a failing health care.

ZELENY: The president and the prime minister were at a black tie dinner, but it is clear that domestic politics front and center for President Trump. They believe they need to carry this momentum from the health care bill, though without question, a legislative victory for President Trump, something that eluded him in the first 100 days. He got it in the second week after that -- Christine and Dave.


ROMANS: All right. Republican lawmakers say the new bill will lower costs. Critics say it could leave millions could be facing higher bills or lose their insurance, but there are always winners and losers with big legislation. Look, we're remaking, essentially remaking a fifth of the American

economy here. All right, younger Americans save under the new plan. They helped pay for older people under Obamacare, so their premiums shrink up to $4,000 a year.

The healthy pay less. States can offer cheaper plans if they waive coverage for things like maternity benefits and prescription drugs, and the rich get a nice little tax cut. The bill repeals two high income taxes used to pay for Obamacare.

If that's who benefits, who is the hardest hit? Mainly older, lower- income Americans. Ironically, Donald Trump's base during this election. Many Obamacare provisions that helped lower income Americans disappear, like subsidies.

Those making $20,000 at any age would see less money under the new tax credits, $5,900 less for a 60-year-old. In fact, adults in their 60s would see their premiums pump up 22 percent. Older Americans could pay five times as much as younger policy-holders.

The new bill also cripples Medicaid. Not only does it end the planned expansion, but it cuts the current amount of federal support. That, again, hurts low-income children, the disabled and senior citizens.

And, finally, those with pre-existing conditions could be charged more or lose their coverage entirely. States don't have to guarantee that insurers cover everyone.

Critics say the GOP replacement of high-risk pools doesn't go far enough. The $8 billion allocated for those high-risk pools would only help a few hundred thousand people, our experts are telling us. You would need an additional $25 billion a year to adequately fund that.


ROMANS: This is all from the Kaiser Family Foundation, who has studied these numbers.

BRIGGS: Sure, but let me ask you about that number. I've seen it repeatedly.

It's not $8 billion over five years. $8 billion over five years is the additional money that came with the Upton Amendment.


BRIGGS: The total money we're talking about is $138 billion. Describe to me why that number from Kaiser shows $8 billion when it should say $138 billion, the total money for these high-risk pools?

ROMANS: Because if you're putting them in the high-risk pools, you're taking them out from someplace else, so that $100 billion is not enough, they say. You're going to need more than that to pull those people out of high-risk pools.

BRIGGS: I think this is the problem here. We are chasing our tail on this because so much is not known.

ROMANS: There are so many questions.

BRIGGS: I just don't think that number is entirely honest about the money that was in the House bill, but --

ROMANS: I wouldn't say honest. I would say they are trying to -- everyone is trying to account for what this is going to cost and be prepared for what this is going to cost. When you put sick people in one pool -- we're talking about sick people or people who have already been sick or have -- you put them all in one place, it is expensive to cover those folks --

BRIGGS: No question about it.

ROMANS: And you're going to push it on to the states and the states --

BRIGGS: But we don't know how much states. We don't know how much states will apply for waivers or how many will receive waivers.

ROMANS: Nope, nope.


ROMANS: And another big question -- another big question aside from that question is, what does this mean for people who work for companies with less than 50 employees? Because now your small company --

BRIGGS: No mandate.

ROMANS: -- doesn't have to provide you with health care anymore, so where are you going to get that healthcare?

[04:10:01] What is it going to cost? And --

BRIGGS: These are just a few of the questions the Senate will grapple with in a few weeks.

ROMANS: Right.

Opponents of Obamacare repeal not surprisingly angry after this vote. Listen.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: You take this bill and you -- we don't want to clog up toilets or anything, but you just toss it into a garbage can and you start again. This health care bill is an embarrassment. It's an insult to the American people. And in the Senate, we will start from zero and do something that will work for ordinary Americans.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: I am convinced that while this is the second version of Trumpcare, I think in many ways, it is probably worse, and I think there are probably more people when the CBO comes out with its ratings within the week or two, more people will not have insurance more than the 24 million that we estimate over the next many years.


ROMANS: You hear that already, Dave, Trumpcare? This is going to be part of the Democratic narrative, Trumpcare. You'd better make sure it's better than Obamacare or you're going to own this thing.

You know, the vote also provoked an unusual response on the House floor. Listen carefully.


ROMANS: That is the sound of House Democrats serenading Republicans --

BRIGGS: Brutal!

ROMANS: Good-bye!

They think that the health care bill will ultimately hurt the GOP in the next election and cost them the majority.

When I first heard that, when it was happening, I thought that was Republicans saying good-bye to Obamacare --

BRIGGS: As did I.

ROMANS: But it was Democrats saying, bye-bye, GOP.

BRIGGS: And no matter what you think about the likelihood of that happening in 2018, that is just absolutely the tone-deaf stuff that Americans hate. They don't care about the politics of this. They care about what it means for my health care. Can I get coverage? Am I covered? That was a major misfire.

ROMANS: Anybody with heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, all these people are concerned.

BRIGGS: It's not about the midterm elections.


BRIGGS: Yes. All right. We also heard from former Vice President Joe Biden who famously called Obamacare a big F-ing deal -- not his exact words at the signing ceremony. He tweeted, "Day of shame in Congress, protecting for pre-existing conditions, mental health, maternity care, addiction services all gone." "Millions of Americans will lose coverage, up to the Senate now, hoping for courage to return."

ROMANS: And you heard from Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader, very clear yesterday trying to -- trying to frame this as to pay for tax cuts for the rich, the president and the GOP want to take away your health care options so they can pay for the rich. You're going to hear that. I think that's going to be their narrative.

BRIGGS: Yes, looked like they turned that narrative last night.


BRIGGS: Surprised they didn't use it before. We'll see.

ROMANS: Why did President Trump tout Australia's health care policies after the House passed his health bill with vastly different provisions? If you're touting Australia's health care, what exactly are you praising? That's next.

Universal health care, right?


[04:17:11] ROMANS: Progressives pouncing on President Trump for praising Australia's health care system just hours after that House passage of the repeal bill for Obamacare. The Aussies have a government-run universal Medicare system, much like the one advocated by former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

Listen to President Trump's remarks during a photo op with the Australian prime minister.


TRUMP: We have a failing health care -- I shouldn't say this to our great gentleman and my friend from Australia, because you have better health care than we do, but we're going to have great health care very soon.


ROMANS: Is he advocating again for universal health care? Didn't he at one time advocate for universal health care a few years ago?

BRIGGS: He did. He did, indeed.

ROMANS: President Trump also denied having a heated phone call with the Australian prime minister in January. He called those reports greatly exaggerated and fake news.

BRIGGS: The White House, meanwhile, the vote to repeal Obamacare, fodder for late-night shows, even for comedian Stephen Colbert, who came under fire earlier this week after making a crude joke about the president. He took aim at the vote, using a "Star Wars" theme, since, of course, it happened on May 4th, Star Wars Day.


STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: I think the Republicans may have fourthed you off your health insurance because the House voted to repeal and replace Obamacare just a few hours ago. For more, let's go to our congressional --


I know the feeling. Let's go to our congressional reporter, Ben.

Ben what was that feeling like?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As if millions of voters suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

COLBERT: Thanks, Ben. Now -- he's a good kid.

Of course, the big question is whether the new plan will cover pre- existing conditions, and the answer is a definite -- neh!

Opting out, very popular provision with many of the states who already fly the traditional opt-out flag.

And the term -- yes, I agree, and I'm from there.

And the new bill would cut taxes for the wealthy up to $883 billion.


Now, listen, if hearing that raises your blood pressure, calm down. You can't afford the medication anymore.


ROMANS: He has been on a roll.

BRIGGS: Yeah, he has been -- I mean, he's toning down the rhetoric, I guess, but clearly --

ROMANS: That's toned down.

BRIGGS: Yeah, for him, it is, compared to where he was earlier in the week.

All right, well, in hopes of slowing new bloodshed in Syria, there's a new deal to create safe zones. Why are anti-Assad forces unhappy? A live report next.


[04:24:12] ROMANS: A new international agreement this morning aimed at slowing the bloodshed in Syria. Russia, Iran, and Turkey inking a deal to create four safe zones for civilians, but leaders of Syrian opposition forces stormed out of the signing ceremony for the so- called de-escalation zones.

Let's try to understand why anti-Assad groups are so unhappy with this agreement.

I want to bring in senior international correspondent Arwa Damon. She is live in Istanbul.


And those de-escalation zones are going to be Idlib province, which is the largest opposition stronghold at this stage, as well as some territory and homes outside of Damascus in a small area and then along the Syrian/Jordanian border.

Now, the reason why opposition activists are furious at this stage, well, there's quite a few of them.

[04:25:05] They are incensed that Iran was involved, they say given how much blood is on Iran's hands, the Russians as well, and they don't necessarily trust that the Russians have either the intent, the desire, or the capability to actually stop the Assad regime from bombing civilians, as they say we saw take place in Aleppo during what was meant to be a cease-fire there as the forced evacuations from that city took place.

And then, of course, they are greatly concerned that this could be the first step towards a partitioning of Syria. And at this stage, as you mentioned, the opposition has not signed on to this. The regime has indicated that it would go along with it but not really put ink to paper just yet. And then, there is the overarching issue of exactly who, which force is going to patrol the borders of these so-called, hypothetical at this stage, de-escalation zones.

ROMANS: Hypothetical, I think is the most important word in the entire situation. All right, thanks. Arwa Damon in Istanbul. Very nice to see you this morning. Thank you.

BRIGGS: More complicated --

ROMANS: Speaking of hypothetical!

BRIGGS: Yes. I mean, look, there are lots of questions on both situations, the health bill that finally passed the House, showing few signs of life in the Senate. Why the first big legislative win for the president may be short-lived. That's next.