ST. MATTHEWS, Ky. — Sen. Rand Paul is heading back to Capitol Hill before President Donald Trump arrives in Kentucky, citing the need to defeat the very bill that Trump is expected to tout in the Bluegrass State on Monday night.
“I’ve got to get to Washington so I can work on the coalition that is trying to defeat the bill, so we’re not exactly on the same page on this,” Paul said Monday at a constituent event here.
“I don’t think they have the votes to pass it right now,” the Kentucky Republican said of House leadership. “If the conservatives stay solid, the bill will at least temporarily be defeated, and then the real negotiations begin. Conservatives will only have a seat at the table if they can stop the initial [House GOP] plan from going through.”
Paul spoke with local business leaders as well as members of the local media gathered at a community center here in suburban Louisville for a coffee organized by a local Chamber of Commerce.
“We welcome the president to Kentucky. He’s very popular here. He did very well in the election,” Paul said. “We appreciate him trying to get rid of some of the regulations that are hurting our economy as well as our high taxes. Even on Obamacare, I agree with the president that we should repeal it. We just disagree exactly with what it should be replaced with.”
Trump’s rally Monday evening at Freedom Hall, the former longtime home of Louisville Cardinals basketball, was announced some time after Paul’s Senate office scheduled his meeting with the business leaders. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky’s senior senator, is scheduled to appear with Trump.
Paul spent most of his formal remarks on the health care debate, and he expressed doubts that House Republican leaders comprehend the consequences of a repeal and replacement of the 2010 health care law that does not fix the health care system.
“I don’t think they understand politics,” he said of Speaker Paul D. Ryan and other advocates of the House’s health care bill that’s due for a Thursday floor vote.
“We are having a debate now about Obamacare,” Paul said. “So, if I tell you I’m going to come back to you in six months and talk about letting you join a buying group, and the vote may likely fail and get swept under the rug in six months? That just doesn’t excite me or anybody else.”
That’s a logical implication of GOP leaders’ avowed three-step approach to rolling back the 2010 law that’s, in part, necessitated by the limits of the Senate’s budget reconciliation rules. Reconciliation allows passage with a simple majority, dodging the chamber’s procedural hurdles. But it is limited to areas of spending, taxes and the budget. This means any follow-up legislation that is part of the three-step approach will require 60 votes to limit debate on the Senate floor.
Ahead of Trump’s visit, McConnell welcomed the president in an opinion piece for the hometown Courier-Journal that highlighted the path forward on health care and the multifaceted approach.
“This bill is only the first part of our three-prong repeal and replace strategy. Next, the executive branch will use its broad authority to further provide relief, lower costs, and improve access. Finally, Congress will also consider future legislation to reform the health care market and make it more competitive,” McConnell wrote.
“We’re moving quickly because things will only continue to get worse unless we act. Republicans want to give the people of Kentucky better care, lower costs and more choices,” the majority leader wrote. “We are determined to provide relief to Kentucky families, and I appreciate President Trump’s leadership in this effort.”
Paul, who has been among the loudest GOP critics of the House’s proposal, said he continued to be a “no” on the bill as currently drafted, and he has concerns over what a failure to fix the health care system would mean for Republicans.
“They’re also calling their bill ‘repeal and replace,’” Paul said of the authors of the House bill. ” My understanding of that title would be that once it’s done, it’s fixed. So, if you repeal and replace and it doesn’t work, I think that’s a problem for Republicans and for the country in general.”
Paul’s allies in the effort to derail the House bill have included members of the House Freedom Caucus, and Paul indicated he would be appealing directly to lawmakers like them later Monday.
The need for coordination with House conservatives explains Paul’s returning to D.C. ahead of Trump’s arrival in Louisville, despite there being no roll call votes in the Senate on Monday.
“I think it’s important for Republicans to understand that once we pass something, we will own it, and if what we pass is not going to work, it’s a bad thing to own,” Paul said.