GOP resistance grows to Obamacare repeal without replacement
But the complaints among lawmakers from various wings of the party are clouding the outlook.
“We’re going to have to work out the differences and try to build consensus to get it done. To me it’s unfathomable that we would not come up with the 51 votes. So we have to figure out where that sweet spot is,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas). “I just don’t think failure is an option.”
Pence discussed the party’s repeal-and-delay plans with House and Senate Republicans this week. But he gave no specific direction on whether he or Trump believes lawmakers should have an immediate replacement ready or how long the transition should be. Several Republican sources said Pence was “intentionally vague” about the administration’s preferences so as not to make waves in the divided conference.
GOP senators said that the party is discussing issuing a framework for a replacement law that would be unveiled alongside the GOP’s repeal measure. They want to quell concerns among voters and insurance companies that Republicans actually have a plan to replace Obamacare. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has issued principles for replacing the law, but the GOP’s efforts in the Senate have been disparate and uneven.
Paul said he intends to release a replacement bill next week.
“There’s political pressure to move quickly and to be decisive. It’s prudent to be thinking through not only what happens next month but in two, three, four years,” said a Republican senator familiar with internal deliberations. “It may be wise to put forward some replacement provisions so you take away the argument that it’s all about repeal.”
“The most important thing for the American people is to know that there aren’t going to be 20 million people without healthcare,” added Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who is up for reelection in a swing state in 2018. “It’s a messaging issue.”
The criticism from Republican senators of the “repeal and delay” tactic may be aimed more at pressuring leaders to produce a replacement than to tank the repeal.
Cotton said Thursday that “when we repeal ObamaCare, we need to have the solution in place moving forward,” a warning against pushing a replacement far into the future. But his spokeswoman was clear on Friday: Cotton, she said, “will be voting in favor of repeal.”
Republicans said privately they’re most worried about Paul. The Kentucky Republican and 2016 presidential candidate voted against a procedural budget measure this week to protest that Republicans aren’t doing enough to cut the federal deficit. That was seen as a shot across the bow, since the budget is the tool Republicans will use to repeal Obamacare with a simple majority.
Paul then huddled with House conservatives to get them to join his push to simultaneously repeal and replace Obamacare. But when pressed, Paul said he’s likely to go along with his party.
“I will vote no on the budget, (but) in all likelihood, I will vote for the repeal. I am working very hard in my committee and in my caucus to say that we should simultaneously vote on replacement,” Paul said. “I think if you do repeal alone, the disaster continues to unfold.”
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) is also in Paul’s camp, though he said he’d “rather not answer the hypothetical” of how he would vote on a repeal bill that did not come with a replacement plan. Cassidy, however, said it’s pretty clear what Trump wants and that he hopes the Senate will give it to him.
“I think we need to know where we’re going to end up in a practical way so that when we begin this process we’re heading in that direction,” Cassidy said. He noted that Trump told CBS’ “60 Minutes” after the election that “we should begin repeal when we replace.”
The GOP’s long-planned goal of cutting federal funding for Planned Parenthood is another wildcard. Murkowski has at times been a supporter of the family planning organization, though she did support the GOP’s 2015 effort to defund it along with repealing Obamacare.
Collins, however, did not side with her party’s effort then. The Maine senator said she was “not happy” that Ryan wants to again try and defund Planned Parenthood as part of the Obamacare repeal effort. But she wouldn’t commit to voting against such a package.
“I’m going to wait and see what happens,” Collins said. “So at this point, I feel it’s simply too early to predict exactly what’s going to come over to us.”