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Sen. John Thune: Majority Gives GOP A Chance To Take On Obamacare


We're going to hear now from the third-ranking Republican in the Senate. That's John Thune of South Dakota who joins us from his home in Sioux Falls. Senator Thune, welcome to the program.

SENATOR JOHN THUNE: Nice to be with you. Thanks, Melissa.

BLOCK: And what's your single top legislative priority now that Republicans will control the Senate?

THUNE: Well, I would say I think Republicans are going to be focused on jobs and the economy. And, you know, that translates into a lot of different areas, but I think you'll see a focus on energy policy - perhaps some things in the area of Obamacare. Repeal the medical device tax is something we think there's a lot of bipartisan support for. So hopefully there will be a number of Democrats and hopefully the president will work with us on that.

BLOCK: So you mentioned a few things there. One of the things you talked about was repealing one small part of the Healthcare Reform Act.

I want to get your response to comments, though, from your Republican colleague Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a Tea Party standard-bearer. He gave an interview to The Washington Post this week and said he wants the Senate to take a page from the confrontational House. He says the first order of business should be Senate hearings on what he calls President Obama's abuse of power. And he wants to pursue every means possible, as he put it, to repeal Obamacare. Is that the direction you want to see your party go?

THUNE: We've got a lot of folks around the country who are very frustrated with the harmful and negative impacts of Obamacare and I suspect are going to want a vote on that. And the House has voted a number of times to repeal it. We've had, I think, an opportunity a few times in the Senate to do that. But my guess is in the majority, that's something that we'll try and do is to repeal and replace it.

BLOCK: And you're talking about - when you say that, you mean repeal the whole thing - a vote to repeal the whole package?

THUNE: My guess is that'll be sort of the opening bid, and I think that my guess also is that probably that means a veto pen at the other end of the process. But I think it's important for us to lay out where we are on this and make it clear to the American people that we think this is a bad law that needs to be repealed and replaced with better policy that actually does address the issue of cost and choice. You know, assuming that we aren't successful with that, then I think the question is are there areas in which we can piece by piece get at some of the more harmful elements of Obamacare and try and find areas where we might get some Democrats to vote with us?

BLOCK: If I'm hearing you right on that, Senator Thune, you're saying have a vote on repealing the whole thing, you'll get a presidential veto, you'll have made a symbolic statement, and then go back and look at it piece by piece.

THUNE: My answer to that, Melissa, is we think it's a bad law. We think it's having harmful impacts on the economy. We think it's made healthcare costs much higher for American families. I think the data supports that. And yes, we'd like to start by attempting to repeal this thing, and then we'll see where it goes from there and whether the president wants to enter into a discussion about how we can reverse, I guess I would say, some of the harmful impacts of this law on the economy. And if the president - which I suspect since this is his signature achievement - wants to veto that approach, then I think we'll probably look at some areas - elements of the law that we think are harmful.

BLOCK: We've been hearing, Senator Thune, from a lot of Republicans since the results have been coming in yesterday that now they say it's time to govern. But you can't govern without the White House, right? I mean, is this just a recipe for more gridlock in Washington?

THUNE: Well, I hope it isn't, and I think a lot of this will be how the president interprets this. If you look at the election results and the polling about right-track-wrong-track - people's perception of the economy, most people think that it's not headed in the right direction. So I think they want to see a change of direction.

And if we're going to do big things - and I think you can do big things in an era of divided government. That was true back in - you know, when Reagan was working with a Democrat Congress, when President Clinton was working with a Republican Congress. You got Social Security, foreign tax reform, welfare form, balanced budget - a whole series of things that got done. But it does take presidential leadership, and I hope the president will come out of this with a desire to work with Republicans to at least meet us halfway and try and figure out where we can put up a record of accomplishment for the American people that will be good for jobs and the economy.

And that would be our goal, and I hope the president accepts, you know, that challenge and outcome of the election as a - hopefully renew his interest in trying to work with us in a constructive way to get some things done.

BLOCK: Senator Thune, thanks for talking with us.

THUNE: Great being with you. Thanks, Melissa.

BLOCK: That's Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota. He's number three in the Republican Senate leadership. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.