The Republican ‘Obamacare’ repeal crusade starts to unravel

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Obamacare
Two months ago, when Republicans enjoyed a successful Election Day, one thing seemed obvious: GOP officials would use their dominant position to repeal the Affordable Care Act the moment they had the chance. It would be the first order of business in 2017, Republican leaders vowed.

There was every reason to believe the GOP would keep this promise – that is, until very recently. TheHuffington Post published a helpful report last night of how quickly the Republican approach is unraveling.

Anxiety about repealing Obamacare without a replacement got a lot more visible in the U.S. Senate on Monday evening, as a half-dozen Republican senators called publicly for slowing down the process.

[A]t least three other GOP senators have now expressed reservations about eliminating the Affordable Care Act without first settling on an alternative. That brings the total to nine – well more than the three defections it would take to deprive Republicans of the majority they would likely need to get repeal through Congress.

To quickly recap, the GOP strategy since the elections is built around a clumsy idea called “repeal and delay.” Roughly speaking, the gambit involves Republican lawmakers using their majority status to quickly pass legislation that repeals the Affordable Care Act, while also leaving the law – or at least most of it – intact for years while Republicans work on their alternative.

The original GOP idea, of course, was “repeal and replace,” but that fell out of favor when it dawned on Republicans that replacing an effective reform system is extremely difficult, and they had no idea how to achieve their goals.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and other party leaders want to move forward on “repeal and delay” anyway, but they’re running into an arithmetic problem: too many Republicans are skeptical of their own party’s plan. Ryan and McConnell just don’t have the votes.

In the House, the far-right House Freedom Caucus is eager to “slow down” the process in order to better understand “the specifics and the timetable of replacement votes and reconciliation instructions.” In the Senate, where GOP leaders can’t afford to lose more than three members, the list of Republicans who want to repeal the ACA and replace it simultaneously with a more conservative alternative keeps growing.

Last week, Sens. Rand Paul, Susan Collins, John McCain, Tom Cotton, and Bob Coker publicly raised doubts about their party’s strategy. Yesterday, Lamar Alexander – who happens to be the chairman of the Senate committee that oversees health care policy – also said he wants a replacement ready to go before Congress repeals the existing law.

Also yesterday, several GOP senators – including Bill Cassidy, Rob Portman, and Lisa Murkowski –signed onto an amendment to the budget resolution that would delay the process until at least March, and Ron Johnson suggested yesterday he’s not sold on “repeal and delay” either.

Taken together, no more than three Senate Republicans can break ranks on their party’s repeal plan, and at least for now, I count at least 10 who aren’t sold on the idea.

Maybe these members will end up changing their minds, or perhaps they’ll succumb to party pressure. Time will tell. But as things stand, the repeal crusade appears to be unraveling a week after the start of the new Republican-led Congress.

What’s more, let’s not forget that if GOP lawmakers decide they’ll wait to repeal “Obamacare” until they’ve completed work on their own health care alternative, they may never repeal the ACA. Republicans like to boast that they can put together a superior plan that Americans will love, but they’ve been working on a health care plan for about seven years now, and so far, they’ve produced nothing.

Postscript: The legislative procedure can get a little complicated, but in case there’s any confusion, the bill GOP lawmakers are considering isn’t exactly a repeal bill of the Affordable Care Act. Rather, they’re working on a process: the measure that’s sparking so much debate right now is about allowing Republicans to use reconciliation to repeal the ACA, ruling out the possibility of a filibuster.

In other words, GOP leaders are trying to advance a bill right now that would allow them to repeal the health care law with 51 votes in the Senate instead of 60. As Vox explained yesterday, the pending measure is a budget resolution that would empower Republicans to pursue their goal, but it’s not the goal itself.

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