Republicans split now on options to Obamacare

Committee chairmen are unable to agree over how to proceed.

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Va  (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

House Speaker John Boehner and Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

House Republicans are united as ever in their election-year opposition to “Obamacare,” but they’re increasingly divided over their promise to vote this year on an alternative to it.

The disagreement comes amid a shifting political calculus around President Barack Obama’s health care law. Millions are enrolled for medical insurance through the law’s exchanges, and an all-out repeal has become less practical and popular. Some Democrats have begun promoting the measure in campaign commercials, and some Republicans are treading more carefully in belittling the program.

At a recent closed-door House Republican caucus meeting, several conservatives pressed GOP leaders over the pledge Majority Leader Eric Cantor made in January that House Republicans would rally around an alternative to “Obamacare” and pass it this year.

“We said at the retreat in January we were going to do this. Well it’s June and we still haven’t done it,” Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., said he told Cantor during the meeting last week. “It’s moving at a snail’s pace. … We want to be for something.”

Roe said he got little reply beyond polite attention. Cantor’s spokesman, Doug Heye, said, “Majority Leader Cantor continues to work towards bold legislative solutions to replace ‘Obamacare.'”

Behind the scenes, lawmakers and aides say, powerful committee chairmen with jurisdiction over the issue have been unable to agree over how to proceed. Some have even begun to suggest publicly that this year is not the time to vote on an alternative that likely would die in the Democratic-controlled Senate or face a veto threat from Obama.

That argument looks especially compelling in light of Republican hopes of taking over the Senate in November.

“We know that we have a Senate that’s not going to do much,” Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said. He also pointed to the dwindling number of legislative days this year.

“There’s not a lot of time but we’re exploring a lot of different options,” Upton said. “We haven’t come to a conclusion yet.”

Lawmakers are home in their districts this week listening to what voters are saying about the health care law, which as a political issue is getting increased competition from the post-mortem on the attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, the Taliban prisoner exchange and treatment delays and reports of falsified records at VA medical facilities.

The House already has voted more than 50 times to repeal or excise all or part of the health care law. But it has been two months since the last vote attacking a fundamental provision of the law, and no further votes on the law have been scheduled.

Even ardent opponents now question the need to repeal the law in full. Repeal remains the official GOP position but is widely acknowledged to be impractical now that the initial problems with the enrollment website have subsided, people have signed up and popular provisions such as a ban on denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions have taken hold.

“I don’t think anybody’s talking about repealing the entire bill,” said Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., who is a physician. “There are clearly sections of the bill … that people are saying, ‘OK, these are actually good things.'”

GOP pollster David Winston, who advises House Republicans, said “Obamacare” has remained unpopular, and he doesn’t expect that to change before the November midterm elections. He said the challenge, and opportunity, for Republicans is to come up with solutions to new issues voters are experiencing, such as unexpectedly high deductibles.

“This plan has created a whole new raft of problems, and what they want to see is those problems resolved,” Winston said. “And so the idea of shifting back to the previous set of problems versus the existing set of problems is not necessarily where they’re focused.”

The changing dynamic is evident on the campaign trail, where some Democrats have run ads publicizing their support for the law or attacking their opponents for resisting it. Some Republicans, meanwhile, are beginning to focus on fixes they would make to the law, rather than repeal. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has come under criticism from Democrats in his re-election campaign after vowing to repeal “Obamacare” while suggesting that Kentucky’s state health insurance marketplace, which was created under the law, could remain.

On Capitol Hill scant consensus has emerged. Roe and other conservatives have rallied around a bill to repeal “Obamacare” and replace it with a series of traditionally Republican initiatives, including expanding access to health savings accounts and allowing insurance to be sold across state lines. Other lawmakers favor their own approaches. Some want a single bill, others a series of them.

Even if GOP leaders did put a bill on the floor, there’s no guarantee their fractious caucus would hold together to pass it.

“There’s a number of aspects we’ve been meeting on in the health care team, talking about those elements that will be in there,” Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., said. “Do I think we have enough to have a vote on it before October? I don’t know if it will be on the schedule.”

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4 Responses to "Republicans split now on options to Obamacare"

  1. Pondering_It_All  June 4, 2014 at 8:38 pm

    Just rename it “RomneyCare” and the Republicans should be fine with it. I think the main problem they have with it now is that they have forever named it “ObamaCare” so for the next 100 years a Democrat’s name will be on a popular government program. Just imagine how they would feel about “LBJcare” (for Medicare) or “FDRpension” for Social Security!

    • Number 6  June 4, 2014 at 11:14 pm

      Good comment, Pondering_It_All!

      RE: the article, it mentioned one of the popular selling points of the insurance which is non-denial due to preexisting conditions. Some insurance companies made that a regular practice. Read several stories about denials by insurance companies before Obamacare, and the effect on the applicant/patients was devastating.

      RE: the Republican plan to counteract Obamacare, it must not be much of a plan or they would not have delayed it indefinitely….and if all they have so far is: “health savings accounts and allowing insurance to be sold across state lines”, that’s a 98-pound weakling next to the advantages of Obamacare.

      This constant refrain by some Republicans reminds me of some people I’ve met who get stuck on certain issues in life and never seem to progress or move on or adapt. You’ve probably met people like that too…..People who’ve never adjusted to a life change….They have trouble dealing with a reality they cannot change….How do respond to them and how do you feel when you’re around them and for the 99th time they re-hash the same tattered, unchanged issue?

  2. woody188  June 5, 2014 at 9:20 am

    I imagine once every single working person sees their taxes increase by $1,750 per year as they start taxing employer health care contributions as wages that opposition to the ACA will significantly increase. Of course Obama has delayed enacting that provision of the law until after elections. Unsure why he’s allowed to pick and choose what provisions he enforces. Seems like a violation of the separation of powers and yet another Constitutional crisis under his watch.

  3. SDRSr  June 9, 2014 at 9:11 am

    Well Woody188, I think the idea of taxing Employer provided health care as wages was a Republican idea. As are a few other tax benefits as wages ideas in some of the Republican budget plans.

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