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Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers defends health care changes in telephone ‘town hall’

UPDATED: Mon., March 20, 2017, 10:38 p.m.

FILE - Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers speaks at a news conference in Washington, D.C., in March 2017. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)
FILE - Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers speaks at a news conference in Washington, D.C., in March 2017. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)

House Republicans have to push through their first phase of changes to the nation’s health care system as part of the budget process so it has a chance of passing the Senate, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers told constituents in a phone-in session Monday evening.

Some policy changes will come later, possibly with bipartisan support from Democrats, she said, although some of the changes she envisions like the ability to buy insurance plans from other states or changes to the medical liability system are not popular with Democrats.

In a one-hour question-and-answer session that people could join via telephone or over the internet, McMorris Rodgers also defended President Trump’s proposed increases in defense spending but said his proposed cuts to many other programs were just a blueprint that Congress is likely to change as it works on the budget. Asked if she supports his proposal to spend money to build a wall on the border with Mexico while cutting other parts of the budget, she hedged.

“I do support securing our borders … that needs to be a priority,” she said. “We’re going to continue to figure out the best way to do that.”

Of the 16 questions McMorris Rodgers fielded, eight were about changes to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Some callers cited projections from the Congressional Budget Office that as many as 24 million people could lose coverage. She replied that “doesn’t tell the whole story” because people will have choices of coverage and tax credits to help take advantage of them.

“We continue to work on it,” she said.

While some callers criticized McMorris Rodgers and other Republicans for moving too fast to repeal the law, others said Congress wasn’t moving fast enough. One asked why the current plan doesn’t allow people to buy insurance policies from other states. That’s contemplated for a later phase when policies will be debated that don’t affect the budget, she said. The first phase, which repeals some taxes and regulations connected to the ACA, only needs simple majorities to pass each chamber, she said, but policy issues will need 60 votes to move through the Senate.

McMorris Rodgers said she expects the House to vote before Easter on a plan to allow people to buy insurance policies across state lines, which she called a longtime priority of hers.

Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has warned against such a law, saying it will create a “race to the bottom” to sell cut-rate plans from other states that don’t have the coverage or protections Washington requires.

Asked if she would support an independent investigation of interference in the 2016 elections, similar to the investigation into the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, McMorris Rodgers said she was concerned about “increasingly aggressive actions” by the Russian government. But the current investigations by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees should be allowed to finish and issue their reports.

“That is the time I will assess and decide what the next step should be,” she said.