Barbara Howard: Governor Charlie Baker - he was in Washington, DC today, he was testifying about the American healthcare system, which is currently in a sort of limbo state. He was speaking before the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. The Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – is still the law of the land. But President Trump appears intent on repealing the ACA. WGBH Radio's Adam Reilly has been closely following Baker's appearance today. He joins me now in the studio. Hi, Adam.
Adam Reilly: Hey, Barbara.
Barbara Howard: So, were there any surprises in Baker's testimony today?
Adam Reilly: When it comes to his thoughts on healthcare, I wouldn't say so. We have known for quite a while now that Governor Baker is very concerned about a rapid repeal of the Affordable Care Act, if there isn't a carefully constructed replacement -- he made that clear once again today. At one point, he urged President Trump not to halt the subsidies that keep costs down for lower income people who are insured through the ACA. He said premiums would spike about 20 percent if the president did that, and that it would wreak unnecessary havoc on the insurance markets. Governor Baker also made bigger points about healthcare that would be familiar, I think, to you and me and anyone else who's followed the governor's career closely. For example, he thinks we can drive healthcare costs down with transparency about the cost of different procedures at different places and also by containing drug prices. So overall, I would say no big revelations on that front.
Barbara Howard: What about the optics of Baker's appearance – did anything strike you as unexpected?
Adam Reilly: I don't know if I'd say unexpected, but definitely noteworthy. First off, I was struck by how amiable his back and forth with Elizabeth Warren –the U.S. senator from Massachusetts – was. She introduced him as someone who has considerable expertise when it comes to healthcare matters. She almost seemed proud to be introducing him as the governor of the state that she represents. And when she had a chance to question Baker, which came later on in today's testimony, they seemed to be working hand in glove. Let's listen to a little bit of an exchange that they had when Senator Warren asked Governor Baker about the implications of cutting those subsidies that I mentioned a moment ago.
CLIP: [Elizabeth Warren] If the president's threat to cut cost sharing makes no sense financially - either for the federal government or for the states or for the families - can you think of any policy justification for threatening to blow up the health insurance marketplaces in Massachusetts and around the country?
[Governor Baker]: I said before I think it would be a bad idea. And I really appreciate the fact that you all are having a conversation about how to make sure that we continue to provide stabilization or create stabilization in a market that clearly needs it.
Adam Reilly: I also thought it was interesting to watch the way Baker interacted with the other governors who he was testifying with - both Republican and Democratic - and the senators who were questioning them. He started off, I thought, maybe a little bit timid. He seemed like he, you know, was not fully comfortable being in this setting, but as the minutes and hours passed, I felt like we could see Governor Baker get more assertive, and his fellow governors – maybe because Baker used to run Harvard Pilgrim, maybe because of Massachusetts’ record as a healthcare trailblazer – they seemed to defer to him as the expert in their midst. And I thought the senators who were asking questions did the same.
Barbara Howard: Given all that, I have to ask, here in Massachusetts, we love to speculate about possible national ambitions of our politicians.
Adam Reilly: We do.
Barbara Howard: …from Mitt Romney, Deval Patrick, Elizabeth Warren … Seth Moulton comes to mind. Did Baker say or did he do anything today that might stoke speculation about him having an eye beyond Massachusetts?
Adam Reilly: I don't think so. And compared to the people you just mentioned, the governor has never really offered a lot of fodder for those of us who love to play the 'will he or she go national' game. But having said that, if the national GOP ever decides that it wants to re-embrace moderate Republicanism, which is a long way away from right now, I think Baker indicated today that he could be a good standard bearer for the party. Take a listen to this back and forth that he had with Al Franken the Democratic senator from Minnesota.
CLIP: [Senator Franken] With a bipartisan effort, Massachusetts developed a system of health coverage that works. I think we may be second in the country.
[Governor Baker]: You just need to know my mom is a Democrat from Rochester, Minnesota.
[Senator Franken]: I so love you.
Adam Reilly: So that was kind of, you know, an enjoyable little coda to their exchange. And I think a reminder that Governor Baker has staked out this ideological middle ground - he's a Republican, [but] in many other states, he'd be a moderate Democrat and he is unusual in the Republican Party right now because of that.
Barbara Howard: Thanks for keeping an eye on all this, Adam.
Adam Reilly: My pleasure. Thanks, Barbara.
To listen to the full conversation, click on the audio player above.