Republicans said this week that they’re open to taking another shot at replacing the health care law, as President Donald Trump suggested, but they’d like the White House to take the lead in coming up with a viable alternative.
“That’s what I’m waiting for, to see their proposal,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the Senate GOP leadership, told reporters on Wednesday.
Republican lawmakers came close to repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act in 2017 with an unpopular bill that Democrats subsequently hammered them over in the 2018 midterm election. The GOP ended up losing 40 House seats and control of the lower chamber.
Trump now wants Republicans to try again to be what he called the “party of health care.” To that end, the Justice Department on Monday asked a federal court to throw out all of Obamacare ― not just one part, as it had advocated previously ― thereby staking out an even more extreme position in a challenge to the Affordable Care Act that could end up before the Supreme Court.
“If the Supreme Court rules that Obamacare is out, we’ll have a plan that is far better than Obamacare,” Trump said Wednesday in the Oval Office.
But, in fact, Republican lawmakers have no such proposal and their efforts to formulate one nearly tore them apart in 2017. While the 2018 election gave them a few more seats in the Senate, they don’t have control of the House, where any kind of bill repealing Obamacare would likely be dead on arrival.
Congressional GOP aides who participated in previous fights over Obamacare are warning Republicans that making the 2020 presidential election about the law and not focusing on more unpopular health care proposals like Medicare for All would prove politically unwise.
“Dear GOP: When Democrats are setting themselves ablaze by advocating for the destruction of American health care, try to resist the temptation of asking them to pass the kerosene,” tweeted Josh Holmes, a Republican consultant who previously served as chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Michael Steel, the longtime press secretary for then-House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), posted that moving to repeal Obamacare without a consensus alternative “makes as much political sense as diving headfirst into a wood chipper.”
Democrats are already going on the offense, believing that the administration’s position on the lawsuit will matter far more to voters in 2020 than anything coming out of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 presidential election.
On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced plans to introduce an amendment to a disaster aid funding bill that would prohibit the Justice Department from using any more funds to litigate that lawsuit seeking to strike down the entirety of Obamacare ― the one where the department is essentially siding with the plaintiffs. Schumer’s goal, in the unlikely event that a vote on his amendment is granted by McConnell, is to get GOP senators on the record about where they stand on the lawsuit.
Still, Republicans insisted on Wednesday that making another run at repealing Obamacare was a matter worth discussing even though it would prove more difficult this year than it did when they controlled both houses of Congress.
“It would be very hard. That’s all pie in the sky,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), adding that conversations were needed to explore how “we move it forward.”
Asked how Republicans can repeal Obamacare with Nancy Pelosi wielding the speaker’s gavel, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said, “Very carefully.”
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), meanwhile, said that his party needs to address the issue of Obamacare’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions, which the lawsuit is seeking to invalidate. If that legal challenge succeeds in the courts, it would also do away with other popular provisions of the law like the one allowing parents to keep their children on their health insurance plan until the kids turn 26 years old.
“That obviously hurt us last November because it was mischaracterized, but we can do a lot better job of taking care of pre-existing conditions,” Wicker said.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who opposed the 2017 Obamacare repeal effort, said the law needs to be repaired through legislation rather than eliminated by a legal challenge, which could throw the entire health care system into chaos. She urged the president to come up with an alternative plan before that happens.
“He’s sort of got the cart before the horse. You need to have a plan for what a replacement would be that would improve upon the ACA,” Collins said of Trump’s push for repeal.