WASHINGTON ― House GOP leaders are forging ahead with a planned Obamacare repeal vote for later this week even as Republicans don’t know the broad strokes of what a replacement might look like ― or whether they even have the votes.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told members during a Tuesday morning conference meeting that they’d like to vote on a budget resolution instructing committees to come up with a repeal of major parts of the Affordable Care Act by Friday, which would be the first chance they’d have to consider the legislation after it’s cleared the Senate.
House conservatives, particularly members of the Freedom Caucus, have expressed concern over voting on those repeal instructions without a clearer idea of what a replacement would look like, particularly when Republicans would simultaneously be voting to approve the addition of more than $9 trillion in new debt over the next 10 years. GOP leaders argue this budget is just to repeal Obamacare, not to lay out a fiscal blueprint, which is why they took debt projections in line with those from the Congressional Budget Office. But conservatives are worried about the message of rubber-stamping so much new debt.
They’re also worried Republican leaders are rushing a repeal vote without discussing details of their alternative.
On Monday night, the Freedom Caucus emerged from a weekly meeting saying they would urge leaders to delay the vote.
“It’s like saying, ‘I’m going to get in that taxi and make good time, but I don’t know where I’m going,’” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the Freedom Caucus. “I want to know where I’m going.”
On Tuesday morning after the conference meeting, however, Meadows was a bit softer about where things stand.
“It is our hope that there will be a lot more specifics that are answered,” he said. “If those specifics are answered, we’re willing to vote today.”
Meadows repeated his call for details on a replacement and the process for that legislation, such as “when are we going to repeal, when we’re going to replace, how long is that process going to take.”
“We just need to make some decisions that perhaps are difficult,” Meadows said, “but we need to go ahead and make those decisions now as a conference.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the former Freedom Caucus chairman who still meets with leadership every week as a representative of the group, said there is still a chance House Republicans will delay the Friday repeal vote.
“That’s the calendar, but we’ll be talking about that,” Jordan told The Huffington Post.
GOP leadership appears to be seizing on the overwhelming consensus among Republicans that they want to replace Obamacare while ignoring the disagreement over what to replace it with.
The No. 4 House Republican, Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), said Tuesday during a leadership press conference that “no one who has coverage because of Obamacare today will lose that coverage.” She also said Republicans would “protect coverage for people with pre-existing conditions” and that “our sons and daughters can stay on their parents’ health insurance until they’re 26.”
That plan sounds a lot like the current version of Obamacare, though there could be a vast difference between protecting coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and ensuring that their premiums and deductibles don’t skyrocket under a new plan with high-risk pools.
Still, it’s much closer to Obamacare than the plans conservatives seem to favor. If you listen to Freedom Caucus member Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), Republicans don’t need to do much ― or anything ― after repealing Obamacare because the system before the 2010 overhaul would come back.
“As a matter of law, if there is a repeal, then we revert back to the best health care system the world has ever known, and that’s the health care system America had in 2008,” Brooks said Tuesday.
Pressed that the health care system has dramatically changed in those intervening years, and that millions of people would lose their health insurance and people with pre-existing conditions potentially wouldn’t be offered plans, Brooks said other people would see their cost of insurance drop.
“There are pros and cons to everything,” he said. “So the question is: Do you want to continue to force Americans who work for a living to pay for the health care of those who don’t work for a living or don’t work well enough to pay for their own needs?”
Between those very different ends of the Republican spectrum ― one that generally agrees with the basic tenets of Obamacare, and another that believes the problem of insurers not offering sick people health care plans is that those people don’t work hard enough ― leaders are trying to find 218 votes in the House, and, eventually, 60 votes in the Senate.
But the first step is upheaving the health insurance market with a speedy repeal before Congress can ever hold a hearing.
Laura Barron-Lopez contributed reporting.