Earlier today, First District Congressman Paul Ryan spoke with WLIP's Bill Lawrence about the upcoming budget-conference-committee meeting and the botched rollout of HealthCare.Gov. Excerpts of the interview follow.
Obamacare's bungled rollout:
"We have been sitting in these oversight hearings on Obamacare in Congress for months, seeing this train wreck coming, knowing that people are going to have huge premium increases--people are going to lose the insurance that they have and like, or people wouldn't even be able to get on the insurance website. They were given warnings. They--meaning the administration and the Department of Health and Human Services--[knew] that this thing wasn't ready, yet they pressed ahead anyway. We gave them three or four opportunities to, at the very least, delay the law or delay the individual mandate. And they said no on each one of these things. I mean, right now, you're going to have to pay a fine if you don't have insurance. But their website is so bad that you can't even buy the insurance. So why would you make somebody pay a fine?"
Overseeing Obamacare's implementation:
"I've been trying for about two months to get Kathleen Sebelius to come testify [before the House Budget Committee], and she has refused. Congress is supposed to do its oversight of the executive branch. She finally agreed to come and testify to another committee, the Energy and Commerce Committee. We have the person who is the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services coming to testify tomorrow before the Ways and Means Committee. That's one of the key people in charge of rolling out Obamacare, and she's one of the people who was telling us earlier in the year and gave us all of these indications that this thing was ready. . . .
"When I see a secretary of Health and Human Services seeing all this evidence that this isn't going to be ready--that people are going to get confused, or people are going to lose insurance and they are going to have gap[s] in coverage--and then they proceed ahead anyway, that's what was concerning to me. But more to the point, she said everything was going to be perfect, everything was going to be right. It was going to be on time, it was going to work, and she was given evidence to the contrary. And she misled Congress in that sense. That's why I was concerned."
The prospects for a successful budget conference:
"I don't want to get ahead of ourselves or raise expectations too high because in this kind of divided government, to get a, really what I call a "grand bargain'--and a grand bargain to me is, "We are going to balance to budget, we're going to pay off the debt, we're going to make Medicare permanently solvent, we're going to fix our big, fiscal problems'--it's extremely clear to me that the President doesn't want to do an agreement like that. If we try for an agreement like that, both sides are going to demand the other one compromises core principles, and we'll just talk about our differences, and we'll go into another food fight.
"What I want to do is look for common ground, see where we can find those areas of understanding and agreement, and pass those. Meaning: Let's take a chop at the tree of our fiscal problems. Let's get a down payment on our debt and our deficit.
"I would rather have smarter spending cuts than the sequester. We'll take the sequester spending cuts if that's all we have to get spending under control and get the deficit under control. But I'd rather do it in a smarter way.
"That's what I'm starting Wednesday with these budget talks. I'm hoping we can do that. I'm sure people will point fingers at each other. It's Washington, so it'll be a bit of a partisan show. But I like to think we can find that common ground--make a difference on the debt. I would love to see this divided government work a little bit, and that would be a confidence builder for the economy, for the country, for the credit markets."
Searching for common ground:
"I put an editorial in the Wall Street Journal about ten days ago that said, "Here are the things in the President's budget that we like. Here's some common ground on things that we can do that we like.' That's what I was trying to do--[which] is, start the conversation as a Republican talking about the things the President proposed in his budget that we would agree to. I just wanted to go first with that kind of a move by showing where I think we can start looking for common ground, and let's go do that. That's basically the process I'm trying to get started here."