Transcript: Sen. Mike Lee on "Face the Nation," July 2, 2017

Senate Republicans have postponed action on their bill to replace Obamacare, and leaders are now scrambling to craft a new bill that will attract both moderates and conservatives in the party. 

"Face the Nation" sat down with Sen. Mike Lee, a conservative Republican from Utah and author of a new book, "Written Out of History: The Forgotten Founders Who Fought Big Government." Lee has voiced concerns about the health care reform bill that Senate GOP leaders unveiled last month, and he wants the bill to go further in uprooting Obamacare. 

On Sunday, Lee discussed health care, his book, and more. 

A transcript of the interview with Lee is below. It aired July 2, 2017, on "Face the Nation."


JOHN DICKERSON: And we begin today with Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee who is in Salt Lake City. He has a new book out, "Written Out of History: The Forgotten Founders Who Fought Big Government." Welcome Senator, I'm going to start with health care. Majority leaders had trouble getting 50 votes, you are pushing something called the Consumer Freedom Act, how will that get a majority of your Republican colleagues?

MIKE LEE: Look this bill, the one we've been discussing in the Senate, has bailouts for insurance companies. It has hundreds of billions of dollars in tax relief for the affluent. It even has some provisions for the poor. Who it leaves out are the forgotten man and the forgotten woman. Those earning a combined household income of $75,000 or so who have been left behind. And these are the people who helped propel President Trump to victory last November. We need to do more to help them and to make sure they can purchase the kind of health care they want and the kind of health care that is affordable for their families.

JOHN DICKERSON:  So as I understand it what you are proposing would allow states to have insurance companies that had none of the Obamacare mandates as long as they kept one plan that would still have those parts of Obamacare that people liked, the protection for pre-existing conditions and the essential health benefits. The criticism is, that if you leave just one plan, that it ends up getting all the sickest patients, the premiums go through the roof, and while premiums go down for other people who are healthier that you create essentially, the classic death spiral?

MIKE LEE: Well the death spiral is what we see with Obamacare right now and the fact is that by guaranteeing them at least one Obamacare compliant plan, we're guaranteeing them exactly what they have now but giving them more options. Options that would inevitably unleash free market forces, that would in turn bring down the price of health care. That's what we want to do. As to those who would be on the Obamacare compliant plan still, there are ways of funding those. There are ways of making sure that those don't go down into a downward spiral.

JOHN DICKERSON: So how would that work because the ways of funding them at the moment are subsidies that are tied to a percentage of your income so that premiums don't get too high. So is that what you're suggesting? Because the problem here of course is that if premiums do get very, very high that people will then be priced out and you'll have the sickest people unable to get insurance.

MIKE LEE: That's right. There are concerns with that but we have to remember that for those who are underneath the 350 percent of federal poverty level line, those people would see their subsidies go up as their cost went up in the insurance pools. And so we think those people would be essentially held harmless and we would see other people. Other people who avail themselves of free market forces being able to unite with an insurance company wanting to sell them a policy that they want to buy and a policy they can afford.  

JOHN DICKERSON: Let me get at a place in the politics here where some of your Republican colleagues are very nervous which is that there would be one Obamacare sort of vestigial plan that would have protections for preexisting conditions but they worry that only one plan that would do so would really not be protection for preexisting conditions because those premiums would be so high and they think that is just politically something that can't be sold to your Republican colleagues. Do you have an answer for that?

MIKE LEE: Well yeah. First of all, this is no different really than what they have right now where people have access to a plan. A plan that very often they can't afford. A plan whose premiums are too high. A plan with a deductible so high that they can't really use the policy. We've got to do something to reinject free market forces into this environment. And look if we can't get this done, I have made clear if we can bring free market forces to bear, we can bring down cost for middle Americans. But if politically, for some reason we can't get that done what we ought to do is get back to what I've been suggesting for the last six months which is to push full repeal and then embark on an iterative step-by-step process to decide what comes next.

JOHN DICKERSON: You-

MIKE LEE: This is consistent with what basically what every Republican who has campaigned for federal office over the last seven years has promised to do. This is consistent with what we did in December 2015 and this is probably what we ought to be doing now if we can't save this effort.  

JOHN DICKERSON:  If Republicans can't agree on a replacement option at the moment why would they be able to agree on one in the future?

MIKE LEE: Well, if we adopted a measure, if we passed a measure repealing Obamacare, and put a delayed implementation measure in there. With the understanding that at that point after passing the repeal measure we would undertake the step-by-step process of deciding what comes next. I think it's easier, sometimes when you lump too many things into one piece of legislation, you doom its likelihood of success and I fear that that might be where we are today and I think that explains a lot of what President Trump was talking about in his tweet the other day. What Senator Sasse mentioned in his series of communications on Friday and I think it's very much worth considering, it's consistent with what I thought would be better, a more likely to succeed legislative strategy over the last six months.

JOHN DICKERSON: Let me move on to your book, "Written Out of History." It's an argument about what's been lost. Explain to us what's been lost and why that's important now?

MIKE LEE: What's been lost are the stories are our early forgotten founders. Those who taught us about things like federalism, about separation of powers. One of the things that we've lost today, is the understanding that not all power is supposed to be vested in the Federal government. I tell the story of eight forgotten founders, people like Canassatego, an Iroquois Indian Chief, who taught Benjamin Franklin about federalism, about the idea that you can form a confederacy in which the central power has only limited powers and local control is retained. Benjamin Franklin then taught those principles to the other founders, who worked those principles into the Constitution. We've forgotten about Canassatego in large part because we've forgotten about federalism and yet as we see from these discussions about healthcare today. There has never been a time in American history when we have needed federalism more. This is neither Republican nor Democratic, it is neither liberal nor conservative, this is simply American. It's a Constitutional value. One that would work well today and one that would allow more Americans to get more of what they want out of government and less of what they don't want. That's why I wrote "Written Out of History" is I want the American people to be able to reconnect with these stories of these forgotten founders.

JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you another, as somebody who's been thinking about the founders and their standards and keeping them freshly in mind, the founders talked a lot about the virtue of their president. Evaluate based on your view of the standards the founders set for virtue, the current behavior of the president this week?

MIKE LEE: Look, the president of the United States, is a unique man. He campaigned on a very aggressive platform that involved draining the swamp. The president takes a unique approach, one that differs from many of his predecessors. It's not going to do any good for me or anyone else to come in and just comment on things we might not like about his Twitter behavior. The best thing we can do when we want to elevate civil dialogue in our American political discourse is to do whatever we can to make sure we treat others kindly with dignity and respect and that's what I intend to do.

JOHN DICKERSON: Alright, Senator Lee, Thanks so much for being with us. Happy Fourth of July.

MIKE LEE: Thank you.