With key battles on health care, energy, and telecommunications already looming, National Journal Live hosted House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., for updates on Republicans’ goals within his panel’s wide jurisdiction. National Journal Group Editorial Director Ronald Brownstein questioned Upton on February 8 on the status of the GOP’s “repeal and replace” health care strategy and the prospects for a national clean-energy standard. Edited excerpts follow.
NJ Let’s plunge right in with health care. You passed the repeal legislation in the House, but it fell short in the Senate. What happens next?
UPTON I’m going to ask a number of governors to come in and tell us what they’re going to do, and states’ attorneys general, as well. But we are also going to proceed, I’m convinced, on an effort on the replacement piece. [Rep.] Marsha Blackburn has a bill [that allows] people to purchase health insurance across state lines. The idea is that maybe you can’t afford your heavy-mandate, high-cost plan, and maybe there’s another state that provides a little better of a plan. We’re going to be looking at tort reform.
NJ These are some elements of the alternative that the Congressional Budget Office assessed in November 2009. CBO said that the Republican alternative at that point would have covered 3 million of the uninsured by 2019, leaving more than 50 million still uncovered at the end of the decade. Is that an acceptable outcome for you?
UPTON I think that all of the things we do would add to the mix in terms of providing benefits for folks who are uninsured. I don’t know what the number would be when you tally them all up.
NJ Will you consider legislation to repeal just the individual mandate?
UPTON I think it’s a good idea. I think we’ll get more votes, quite frankly, than we did on the repeal, and that’ll be something we discuss with the leadership. I know a number of Democrats who voted against our effort to repeal who, I’m convinced, will vote to repeal the individual mandate.
NJ Yet, the individual mandate first appeared as the Republican alternative to Bill and Hillary Clinton’s health care plan.
UPTON Well, two courts have said it’s unconstitutional. I wasn’t involved in that debate back 16 years ago, but I know that ideas do change and folks do change. Part of the Republican plan was that we want incentives, not penalties, for folks.
NJ In the bill as it now stands, there’s a limited provision that one state would have to agree with another state to allow the interstate sale of health insurance. The version that Republicans have proposed historically is that any plan that can be sold anywhere can be sold everywhere, in all 50 states. Why is that better?
UPTON Because the individual ought to make that decision. Maybe New Jersey has a lot more mandates than Arizona. So if a person in New Jersey says, I can’t afford this plan, and therefore I have to risk myself, my spouse, my three kids, we just can’t be covered because I cannot pay these premiums. But all of a sudden you’ve got another state—pick one—and they don’t have the same mandates and therefore you have a lower cost. Why not let that individual pick and choose what they want?
NJ How do you want to change the law’s abortion provisions?
UPTON We’re going to have a hearing on that, and I expect it’ll reach the floor next month, to codify the president’s executive order as it relates to abortion in the health care law.
NJ On energy, let’s start with the draft legislation that you put out on climate and the Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon rules. The bill is provocative right from the preamble. You say your goal is to prohibit EPA from “promulgating any regulation concerning possible climate change.” Are you saying that you are not convinced that climate change is occurring?
UPTON What we’re saying is this: The Clean Air Act, when it was passed in the early ’90s, did not give EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Congress ought to have that responsibility, not the bureaucracy at EPA.
NJ But you say “possible climate change.”
UPTON That was to get people like you to read the bill.
NJ So your view is that climate change is occurring?
UPTON Well, I have said many times, and there was a report a couple weeks ago, if you look at this last year, it was the warmest year in the last decade. I accept that. I do not say that it is man-made.
NJ So you’re saying, “I think the climate is changing, but I’m not convinced that human activity is causing the change.” Is that your position?
This article appears in the February 12, 2011 edition of National Journal Magazine.