Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner told members of the Daily Herald editorial board Thursday that an immediate repeal of the federal Affordable Care Act would put Illinois in a tough spot and that he'd use his connections with members of President Donald Trump's administration to fight such a move.
"We have strongly recommended that they just don't remove the Affordable Care Act. I think we need to have something (in place)," Rauner said.
More than 1 million people in Illinois get insurance under the ACA through insurance exchanges or Medicaid, a health insurance program for the poor.
Trump, in the first days of his presidency, issued an executive order requiring federal agencies to minimize "burdens" imposed by the ACA. Both Republican-controlled houses of Congress have begun votes that would start the process of repealing the law put in place under former President Barack Obama.
Rauner, of Winnetka, said a full repeal "would be a very tough dynamic."
"There are things that are good that have been working and many things that have been bad and have not been working. The costs are through the roof," Rauner said of the ACA. Rauner said his office has been in "close communication with the federal government" on the subject and cited several members of the Trump administration that he has close ties with. They include United Nations Ambassador and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Vice President and former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, and Nick Ayers, a Trump adviser who worked on Rauner's 2014 governor's race.
Rauner said he's had one telephone conversation with the president, a congratulatory call following Trump's election, which lasted about 10 minutes, but he declined to disclose details.
Rauner has not formally announced that he is running for re-election, but his writing a $50 million personal check to his campaign account in December has been viewed as a clear signal of his intent.
The wealthy venture capitalist laughed in the wide-ranging meeting with the editorial board that the contribution was more a "heave" than a "drop" and said he committed the funds because the state "needs a two-party system."
The state has gone without a full-year budget since shortly after Rauner took office in 2015, leaving the state with at least $11 billion in unpaid bills and forcing social service agencies to make deep cuts in programs and staffing.
The governor has insisted that any spending plan be accompanied by a set of pro-business changes he calls his "turnaround agenda."
"We can't have a balanced budget if our economy is growing slower," Rauner said. "I need to send a message to job creators that it's a different day."
He said if lawmakers can't compromise on a budget, they should let him decide what to cut. "If the General Assembly wants me to make the cuts I will do that," he said Thursday.
He called recent work by leaders of the state Senate to reach a budget compromise "a big breakthrough."