GOP airs Obamacare divisions in Pence meeting – Politico
Republicans are fast-tracking the process of repealing Obamacare, aiming to get it done in several weeks. But they’re not even close to agreement about what comes next — or even when the repeal should take effect.
Those disagreements spilled over Wednesday at a closed-door meeting with Vice President-elect Mike Pence that had been intended to unify the Senate GOP. Instead, multiple senators stood up to express concern that the party’s plans to repeal and replace the law could blow massive holes in the budget, according to a source familiar with the exchange.
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Newly ascendant Republicans are reckoning with the reality that dismantling a nearly seven-year-old law that reshaped a $3 trillion health sector and covers millions of Americans is more daunting than simply campaigning against it.
“Most of the issues are with respect to replace,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said of the disarray inside the caucus. “I don’t think repeal is that complicated. We’ve done that once. But yes there are budgetary considerations when it comes time to replace. It’s complicated, we’ve got a lot of moving parts.”
After nearly eight years of fighting Obamacare, Republican leaders and the incoming Trump administration are still trying to sort out the basics, lawmakers said after Pence met with House and Senate lawmakers to plan the GOP attack. They don’t know how long to leave the 2010 law in place to provide a transition to whatever comes next and they haven’t even gotten to the much bigger, thornier problem of how to replace it.
On the timetable, Republicans are moving closer to agreement, although there is still no final decision how to proceed as they balance the needs of health insurers who want several years of transition against some conservatives who fear that Republicans are preparing to merely kick the can indefinitely on replacing the law. Now, according to lawmakers and aides, Republicans are merely deciding between transition lengths of two or three years.
“The House and Senate may still be on two different pages and it’s a very active discussion,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).
Initially, some Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and House conservatives wanted the transition period to last no longer than six months, but they appear to have relented. In an interview Wednesday, Cruz declined to take a hard line against plans floated by leadership although he said that the length of the transition period “will be the subject of considerable debate.”
“There’s some difference of opinion of whether it should be two years like it was in 2015, or whether it should be longer,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), referring to the last repeal vote which President Barack Obama vetoed.
Republicans are not only considering the timeline but whether Obamacare’s taxes are repealed or merely delayed for a few years. They are considering whether they can delay Obamacare’s taxes — which raised billions of dollars to pay for the law — until their replacement goes into effect. That would protect them from the political liability of having to raise taxes when a Republican health plan takes effect.
Most immediately, the GOP has a math problem. They can lose only two votes or fewer on a repeal vote and one senator is already wavering. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) defected from Wednesday’s procedural vote on a budget, which allows Republicans to use a special budget process called reconciliation to repeal the health care law without a Democratic filibuster.
“Everybody is hot and heavy to vote on this budget because it repeals Obamacare,” Paul said on MSNBC on Wednesday. “I’m opposed to Obamacare and I understand the need and desire and I am for repealing it but I won’t vote for a terrible budget just to repeal Obamacare. If I have to weigh the two problems, I actually think the debt is a more important problem than Obamacare.”
Paul told reporters that “in all likelihood” he would support the actual repeal bill.
President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday tweeted that Democrats need to be held accountable, hewing closely to Hill Republicans who argue the health law was on a downward spiral even before the election. But Democrats on Wednesday started a new political gambit accusing the GOP of making America “sick again” with its plans to repeal Obamacare as well as potentially make changes to other entitlement programs.
After huddling with Pence, the vice-president elect and GOP leaders insisted things were going smoothly, though Pence indicated the replacement plan would come from Congress, not from the White House.
“We’re working very closely with the Senate leadership on a budget resolution that will being the process of repealing Obamacare and also create a framework for replacement going forward,” Pence said. “The architecture of the replacement of Obamacare will come together as it should: through the legislative process in the weeks and months ahead.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan also rebuffed the idea that Republicans face stumbling blocks.
“We have a plan to replace it,” he told reporters. “We have plenty of ideas to replace it. And you’ll see as the weeks and month unfold what we’re talking about replacing it with — how we can get better choice with lower prices by not having a costly takeover of government.”
Senior Republican sources acknowledge that the process of repeal and replace will be messy, but insist they will be able to do it.
“It’s expected,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which will be responsible for significant parts of the repeal and replacement. “Everything is kind of in turmoil right now — Trump hasn’t taken over and we just started the Congress again.”
But Republicans face a tactical concern as well: They need to keep their caucus united while also winning at least eight Democrats to get a replacement plan through the Senate. But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is pressing his party to hang back and refuse to cooperate with Republicans until they introduce a framework for a replacement.
“Give us a plan. Where is it? What is it?” said Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).
But Pence skewered Schumer’s new campaign in his closed-door meetings on the Hill, taking particularly exception to Schumer’s contention that Republicans now own Obamacare since they are in power.
“They own it,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). “What we own is the responsibility for getting something that can actually improve health care. That was the message that was coming across in the meeting today.”