Gov. John Hickenlooper in his office Wednesday Sept. 20, 2017.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News

Gov. John Hickenlooper said Wednesday the state faces the loss of at least $1.5 billion a year if Congress passes the latest Republican proposal to repeal and replace Obamacare.

The Democratic governor said the "draconian" cuts would force thousands of people off insurance and mean that people with costly pre-existing conditions could be "out of luck."

The health care proposal would cut Medicaid and transfer federal money for Medicaid expansion and insurance subsidies to the states in lump-sum payments. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday his "intention" is to hold a vote on the proposal next week.

Hickenlooper and Republican Gov. John Kasich of Ohio have led a national effort against the Republican health care bills and offered their own proposal last month.

On his recent decision to join 15 other states in a lawsuit to block President Donald Trump's elimination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Hickenlooper said DACA children have built lives in the U.S.

"They felt they had an agreement with the U.S. government," he said of the children were brought to the United States illegally when they were younger. President Obama's DACA program led them to believe "that they would be in some way protected. So now to pull that rug out from under them to me seems the height of deceit."

Hickenlooper said he hopes the lawsuit serves as a "prod" to Congress, which has six months to act before Trump cancels the program.

Edited Interview Highlights

On whether there an opportunity here for Colorado to set its own course on health care insurance?

"Well that would be feasible if the cuts weren't so Draconian. I look at this, it's almost like Groundhog Day. Somebody said this, this is similar to the Senate bill the Republican party tried to ram through a couple months ago, except this one's more draconian. In other words, the cuts are larger. When I was looking and being briefed yesterday it was $800 million to a billion dollars a year in cuts to what Colorado now receives. Now the more recent estimate is $1.5 billion a year and that we'll ultimately over the next ten years end up getting to $3 billion."

On why he joined the lawsuit with 15 other states against President Trump over ending the DACA program that protects those brought to country illegally when they were children:

"You know I'm not a big one for lawsuits. In my 15 years in the restaurant business I never sued anyone, I never got sued. DACA is such fundamental common sense that these kids came when they were one or two or three years old for the most part. They've never known another home. They are as American as any of us. What President Obama was trying to do with DACA with deferred action was to allow them to come out of the shadows, and continue their education, to actually have a working permit that doesn't make them a citizen; it doesn't break any rules, but allows them to work."

On why he didn’t pardon Ingrid Encalada Latorre, who was in the country illegally and stole someone’s identity so she could work. Latorre had hoped to avoid deportation:

“Well it is a challenge any time you have a case like this. It truly is heartbreaking. … She has a 2-year-old and an 8-year-old. She has worked so hard to support them. Her dream of being able to participate in the American dream is a dream that most of our ancestors, at one time or another, shared. But a, the crime, identity theft. … In a funny way, many people would take that as identity theft is okay, because this person is really struggling. I think that's the wrong message. Any time you do a pardon, and we have a whole list of issues that we look at, but one of the biggest ones is we want to make sure that we're not in any way setting a precedent. In other words, we want to make sure that the crime happened long enough ago, and that if possible, the victims forgive. I mean there's a whole list.”

Read The Full Transcript

Ryan Warner: Colorado's governor says he's experiencing deja vu as Congress takes another crack at repealing and replacing Obamacare. What could the Graham-Cassidy bill mean for Colorado? It's my lead question for Democrat John Hickenlooper when we spoke Wednesday at the state Capitol. Governor, thank you for being with us again.

Gov. John Hickenlooper: Always a pleasure.

RW: This latest health care proposal cuts Medicaid, which expanded in this state under Obamacare and along with eliminating many of the ACA's requirements would transfer federal money for Medicaid and insurance subsidies to the states in the form of lump sum payments. You often talk about state innovation. Is there an opportunity here for Colorado to set its own course?

JH: Well that would be feasible if the cuts weren't so draconian. I look at this, it's almost like Groundhog Day. Somebody said this, this is similar to the Senate bill the Republican party tried to ram through a couple months ago, except this one's more draconian. In other words, the cuts are larger. When I was looking and being briefed yesterday it was $800 million to a billion dollars a year in cuts to what Colorado now receives. Now the more recent estimate is $1.5 billion a year and that we'll ultimately over the next ten years end up getting to $3 billion.

RW: That's specific to Colorado?

JH: Yes, that's specific to Colorado. Again, what it's doing is taking all those states that expanded Medicaid and penalizing them, taking back a huge chunk of the money that they've been receiving and using that to provide more coverage to those states that hadn't gotten covered with Medicaid. 

RW: What would that mean practically for Colorado? Cuts of that magnitude, who gets affected?

JH: Oh my gosh. We would dramatically have to roll back coverage. We would not have subsidies. 

RW: Coverage of Medicaid?

JH: Coverage of Medicaid, but also we would not have the CSRs, the cost sharing reductions, and-

RW: These help defray the cost of insurance.

JH: In the private world. The small businesses, the individual insurance market. If you take away those subsidies, literally 100,000 people, 150,000 people could lose their insurance coverage. So you're going to dramatically roll back Medicaid. You're going to dramatically diminish the stability of the private markets and what are you really getting out of it? 

We have been working with Senator Murray and Senator Alexander on bipartisan hearings in the Senate on health care and really beginning to make progress, provide stability for a year or two and then move on to the cost savings that again, all of us, Republicans and Democrats, all of us governors agree that we need to find ways to limit the inflation that we've had in medical care for decades. 

RW: At this point then, do you think bipartisan healthcare reform is dead on arrival?

JH: No, I don't think so because I, I mean the Senate has always been the conscience of the country. I think it's appropriate that it becomes that last bastion that says, "Let's go back to regular order where you need 60 votes to pass something. Let's go back to hearings and bringing in experts and maybe even occasional governors of both parties. Governors being the people who have to implement these regulations."

RW: Let me say that you were one of ten governors to sign a letter to Congress this week continuing to push for a bipartisan solution. 

JH: Yeah, we had four Republicans, five Democrats and an Independent really focused on how do we provide stability in the private markets, but also cost savings. 

RW: On the subject of costs, there are many Coloradans who have seen their premiums for insurance increase. Under the Graham-Cassidy proposals, insurers could charge more for pre-existing conditions but they wouldn't have to provide maternity care, mental health coverage, certainly that would represent a sacrifice for some. Is there a hunger in Colorado for bare bones, affordable plans?

JH: That is one of the big questions, is what is a bare bones plan? What is appropriate? If you allow insurance companies just a little wiggle room to get out from pre-existing conditions then those people that have had cancer, those people that are dealing with dialysis or end stage renal disease, those folks, those individuals are going to be really out of luck. 

RW: The state could spend its block grants from the federal government to endure those most in need. 

JH: Sure, if we could come close to what the need was. I think you question of whether we are willing to look at a leaner insurance program so that people don't quite get everything that they get now, that should be one of the forms of savings. 

RW: But all of this assumes that the Senate will listen to these proposals and is there anything else that you're doing to sway that body? Have you talked with Senator Gardner of Colorado at this point?

JH: Senator Gardner and I had a couple discussions and-

RW: He's been a reliable vote for the Republicans for these plans. 

JH: But he's also someone who's really been thinking about this and this last weekend I can tell you, because I talked to him on Monday, he went and visited several hospitals in this mountains and he heard loud and clear what they were saying. I think he's trying to-

RW: What were they saying?

JH: They were saying that they don't want to have these supports for their providing of care yanked out from under them. All these supports, one way or another, come down hardest on our rural healthcare providers. That's who's most at risk. So when Senator Gardner says, "I'm not crazy about this," and he did give me assurance that he was going to look at it very closely, that he was going to make sure it got scored, so he wouldn't go out and vote for something before we really knew what those impacts to Colorado would be.

RW: Though it is possible that that vote comes next week before the Congressional Budget Office can come up with a score.

JH: I think that the Budget Office is going to try and hustle and get a score.

RW: And it may be that there are preliminary numbers from the CBO before then. To another issue now, immigration. You are suing President Trump over his decision to end a program that protects immigrants brought illegally to this country as children, it's called DACA. You joined the lawsuit with 15 other states, but without the support of Colorado's Attorney General, Republican Cynthia Coffman. Why do you feel this needs to be done.

JH: You know I'm not a big one for lawsuits. In my 15 years in the restaurant business I never sued anyone, I never got sued. DACA is such fundamental common sense that these kids came when they were one or two or three years old for the most part. They've never known another home. They are as American as any of us. What President Obama was trying to do with DACA with deferred action was to allow them to come out of the shadows, and continue their education, to actually have a working permit that doesn't make them a citizen; it doesn't break any rules, but allows them to work.

RW: Now he did this through executive order, and opponents of DACA argue in part that that's unconstitutional. That it is Congress' domain. That's where the issue is now because the president has given Congress six months to act. If you're such an advocate of the program, why wouldn't you want to have it solidified?

JH: I do!.Are you kidding me? I am 100 percent. I will march up and down the aisles of Congress until they throw me out.

RW: So why sue and not wait for Congress to act?

JH: Because I think in this case, the lawsuit becomes a prod. This is something I have a great sense of urgency. I know a bunch of these kids. For them to have come out of the shadows, they felt they had an agreement with the US government if they came forward, and provided their address, and their, how to contact them, where they live, their work history, everything, that then they would be in some way protected. So now to pull that rug out from under them, to me seems the height of deceit. Surely if you look at the transition of what President Trump has said on the way, he's beginning to feel that way a little bit, too. That he, I think, is clearly more sympathetic to these kids, and would also like Congress to find a way of solving the problem.

RW: Now you recently made the decision in the case of a Colorado immigrant, Ingrid Encalada Latorre. She asked you for a pardon from a criminal conviction in hopes that it would help persuade Federal authorities not to deport her. You said no to that request. She's now got 30 days to get her affairs in order, and leave the country. In a statement, you said, "Pardoning her would be a step backward in the fight for immigration reform." Why would it set those reform efforts back?

JH: Well it is a challenge any time you have a case like this. It truly is heartbreaking. I mean my...

RW: She has children here.

JH: She has a two-year old and an eight-year old. She has worked so hard to support them. Her dream of being able to participate in the American dream is a dream that most of our ancestors, at one time or another, shared. But a, the crime, identity theft.

RW: She stole someone's name and Social Security number to get employment.

JH: Right. And that person is still having problems. That person went through, basically their  bank accounts were attached. Their lives were turned upside down.

RW: The harm there means you don't think that a pardon is warranted.

JH: In a funny way, many people would take that as identity theft is okay, because this person is really struggling. I think that's the wrong message. Any time you do a pardon, and we have a whole list of issues that we look at, but one of the biggest ones is we want to make sure that we're not in any way setting a precedent. In other words, we want to make sure that the crime happened long enough ago, and that if possible, the victims forgive. I mean there's a whole list.

RW: But you did pardon another immigrant earlier this year, Rene Lima-Marin, who's tried to avoid deportation to Cuba. His story is complicated. He was convicted of robbing two video stores; sentenced to 98 years; and mistakenly, paroled early. When that mistake was discovered, he was sent back to prison. Meanwhile, he and his supporters argued that while he was free, he had rebuilt his life. And you pardoned Lima-Marin, but not Encalada Latorre. I'll point out that in Lima-Marin's case, the victim also opposed the pardon. So what's the difference?

JH: Sure. And that's not a universal. That's one of a long list. But Lima-Marin came here when he was two. He had gotten an outrageous sentence for what his crime was. But also keep in mind that a judge had looked and said that the government's conduct towards him was unconstitutional, in other words, they said he should be set free. They're very different cases.

RW: You're listening to Colorado Matters. I'm Ryan Warner. And we're back at the state capitol for our regular conversation with Colorado's governor John Hickenlooper. For a moment now to a snafu in a law passed last spring, one that has prompted you to call a special session next month, a bill meant to help the state get more money for hospitals, transportation, and schools mistakenly ended up cutting money that goes to special districts. This is like Metro Denver's RTD Transit System, arts institutions. Do you have a plan in the works to fix this that you sort of hand the legislature, or do they come up with something on their own?

JH: Well, I think we work together. This is a pretty simple fix, right? It was an oversight, and it was, Republicans signed the bill. Democrats signed the bill. Our office looked over the bill. So I think there's plenty of blame to share.

RW: You take some of that?

JH: Sure. Of course. 

RW: What's this going to cost taxpayers, by the way?

JH: Were not sure if it's, generally we think we can keep it to about $25,000 a day, and by statute we have to have three days to get the law passed to fix it. So $75,000, but this is costing all those institutions, and one of them out in Gunnison. Another one's out on the West Slope, the Far West Slope near Grand Junction. It's $600,000 per month. 

RW: Why don't we wrap up by talking about Amazon? The company plans to build a second headquarters, a $5 billion facility somewhere in North America. They say it'll bring in 50,000 new jobs with average salaries of about $100,000. But Amazon's going to ask for big financial incentives. This state has a booming economy, record low unemployment. There's clearly interest on the part of some in attracting Amazon. Why should Colorado pay Amazon for the privilege of coming here?

JH: Well, one thing that a company like Amazon provides to a community, it dramatically  expands

RW: You're going to say traffic.

JH: Expands your capacity for entrepreneurship and for innovation. Amazon is famous for spinning off small businesses that come out of it. So it allows you to grow, and it allows you to make additional investments in your infrastructure for transportation. It makes it easier by having more people. Amazon wants to be in an urban part of the metropolitan area wherever they go. So they're not going to go out and sprawl, which is what makes more traffic problems. They're going to probably try to get concentrated on one campus, somewhere close to the downtown. It's gotta be within, I think, 45 minutes to the airport is what I heard.

RW: There's some talk of the StorageTek facility, you know that big facility along 36?

JH: Yeah, it's a monster facility. But again, all kinds of possibilities here that, our job is to work with the local communities and make sure that we find those three or four or five most compelling possibilities, and then make sure that Amazon knows all the other reasons of why Colorado might be a better choice than the other parts of the United States.

RW: But you're saying whatever incentives Colorado or some particular municipality offers is worth it because of that spinoff culture around Amazon.

JH: Well-

RW: Can expect more than that.

JH: We don't offer the same kinds of incentives that you saw in Wisconsin, when they were trying to get the Apple manufacturer, Foxconn, to come from China and have these big offices, billions of dollars. We are always going to lose in terms of the size of our subsidy that we can offer. And in most cases, not every case, but in almost every case, even when you add in the local and the state incentives, we still break even. In other words, what we're supplying to the company is still less than the tax revenues we receive per employee, and we're providing the subsidy in most cases just for five years.

RW: I haven't asked you this point blank. Do you want Amazon HQ2?

JH: Yeah, I think it is important that we look at what can Amazon do for us, and that that be part of the discussion. What are the places where their culture of innovation could help us solve problems that are vexing for the entire state. 

RW: What do you say to people about the Amazon question who just say, "You know what? Enough growth already. We're growing fast enough. Governor, put on the brakes a bit."

JH: We're not throwing money around like anybody else, but this state learned the hard way what happens when you put on the brakes. Nothing stays the same, so you're either expanding jobs, or you're contracting. Now you can slow the rate of expansion, but that's very hard. Back when we turned our back on the Olympics, we were awarded the Olympics for 1976. 1972 we had a vote, and we said, "We don't want it." And basically we put a big, "We're busy. Go somewhere else. We don't want to grow anymore in Colorado."

RW: Colorado grew anyway, it turns out.

JH: Well, for 20 years it struggled to grow, and if you go back and look at the recession we had in the mid-1980s from 1982 till really until about 1991 was how long it affected Colorado. I think there's a fair argument to say that we, when you don't grow organically and you don't have a diversity of your economy, a lot of different types of jobs and industries, then you get dependent on one or two types of sources of jobs, in that case we were dependent upon oil and gas.

RW: Right but the economy is much more diverse now than it was then. 

JH: And there's for reasons because we've been carefully growing and making sure that we pass FasTracks to build our infrastructure in place. I mean the challenge to me, we still didn't pass a legitimate, necessary infrastructure bill last year. And that's going to be the priority of this next general assembly is, alright, if we're gonna grow, and again if you say you don't want to grow, boy it's hard to restart it. Once your growth stops and you say well we're going to take a break for a few years, you don't just turn it on like a faucet.

RW: There's also likely to be a ballot measure in the next election that has to do with transportation as well.

JH: Exactly. But if we build that infrastructure, if the growth is concentrated in urban areas, then I think it's a benefit to the entire state and we use that growth to make sure that we do get broadband, we can afford broadband, in every municipal town in the entire state. No matter how small or how rural.

RW: Governor, thank you for your time.