BALTIMORE ― House Democrats are feeling good about the fight over the Affordable Care Act.
As Republicans continue to debate exactly how to deliver on promises to replace the massive health care program, which as of January insured 18 million Americans, Democrats were more than happy to sit, point, and gloat about predicament the GOP finds itself in.
“As time goes on, it gets better for us,” Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, said Wednesday during the annual House Democratic retreat. “Because as time goes on, more people apply for insurance. From a net benefit, all of a sudden you’re gonna tell the American people you’re gonna take something away.
“When you look at it from that perspective, as I’ve been having some fun saying, it has succeeded bigly,” he added, borrowing President Donald Trump’s favorite word.
Republicans are finding it is much harder to craft an alternative to the health care law, commonly called Obamacare, than they initially figured. Their efforts to quickly repeal and replace the program have stalled, as Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) admitted on Tuesday.
Trump, who promised to repeal the law immediately upon taking office, seemed acknowledge the setback, suggesting the GOP may not put forward a plan of its own until next year.
“It statutorily takes a while to get,” Trump said during a Sunday interview with Fox News. “We’re going to be putting it in fairly soon. I think that, yes, I would like to say by the end of the year, at least the rudiments, but we should have something within the year and the following year.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) denied that his party was in discord. During a press conference this week, the speaker vowed his caucus would produce legislation this year aimed at replacing Obamacare.
The GOP hemming and hawing was music to the ears of leading Democrats who helped craft Obamacare. Those lawmakers projected confidence about the fate of the health care law during this week’s Democratic retreat in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
“They realize there is no replacement,” Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), ranking member on the Education and the Workforce Committee, told reporters, referring to Republicans. “If they had done this quickly ― first day, do it while no one’s looking ― they might have gotten away with it. Now, just too many people, including too many of their members, recognize the chaos that will be caused.”
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the Republicans are in “total disarray.”
“They really don’t have the votes for any kind of replacement,” he added.
House Democratic leadership kicked off the retreat Wednesday by vowing to fight Trump’s administration tooth and nail. In addition, they sought to push back against the notion they were irrelevant as a minority party with few institutional tools to oppose the GOP’s whim.
House Democrats who helped draft Obamacare said during a panel discussion that the GOP underestimated the task that lay ahead.
“I think we have tremendous leverage,” Pallone said, noting Republicans would need Democratic votes to help pass a replacement plan that likely would not get every GOP member on board.
“They’re expecting somehow we’re going to join with them and say this is a terrible system and we’re going to help them replace it. We realize it’s a great system. What we want to do is improve it.”