Cantor takes mission impossible

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is taking the lead on crafting the GOP’s Obama-Care replacement proposal.

The extraordinarily tough task faces many obstacles and is complicated by election-year politics and an unruly GOP conference.

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But Cantor believes the Republicans must shake their “party of no” reputation, and passing an ObamaCare replacement bill is part of that strategy.

Most, if not all, Democrats will reject whatever Cantor produces. To pass a bill through the House, Republicans will need to keep defections to about 20 or fewer. That will be a tall order.

For years, Republicans have promised a “repeal and replace” strategy on ObamaCare, but have never coalesced behind one plan. President Obama has repeatedly mocked the GOP for not delivering an alternative.

Cantor intends to move a repeal-and-replace bill before the midterm elections in November, according to a source familiar with the situation. He broached the issue at the House GOP retreat in Cambridge, Md., late last week.

“I think it is very likely that we’re going to have it before the election, we’re going to give the people — or at least we are going to try to give the people — a clear distinction of who we are versus who the Democrats are,” Florida Rep. Tom Rooney (R) said.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is on board with that goal, though he has his hands full on putting together an immigration reform bill — another top priority for the year.

This is not the first time Cantor has tried to move an ObamaCare fix bill. In April of last year, the Virginia Republican tried and failed to pass a bill that would shift money for the Affordable Care Act to boost high-risk insurance pools. Conservatives balked at the measure, and the bill was pulled from the floor.

Nearly a year later, some Republicans contend that the House GOP conference is in a different place now, having learned lessons from what was an ugly 2013.  

Republican Study Committee (RSC) Chairman Steve Scalise (La.) told The Hill he finds it “encouraging” the House will vote on a replacement bill.

“You’re finally seeing leadership move that way, which is encouraging, because if you look at it, maybe six months ago they weren’t interested in having a single alternative and now they are actually open to it,” said Scalise, who helped write the RSC’s American Health Care Reform Act.

The Louisiana lawmaker noted that the RSC bill has 124 co-sponsors, a majority of the House GOP. He added that it doesn’t matter who gets the credit for the alternative as long as the House majority offers it.

House GOP leadership aides said it is unclear if the effort would entail one single replacement bill or a handful of proposals.

Cantor intends to gather committee chairmen and key GOP lawmakers to cull through the dozens of Republican healthcare alternatives introduced to date.

“We have an embarrassment of riches. There’s so many great ideas that are out there that I think what you will see is coalescing around these larger themes of empowering patients. In terms of who’s authoring which bills, that’s a leader [Cantor] question,” Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) told The Hill.

GOP Rep. Tom Price (Ga.), a sponsor of an alternative and co-sponsor of the RSC legislation, pointed out that more than 150 GOP bills call for changes to ObamaCare. GOP Sens. Richard Burr (N.C.), Tom Coburn (Okla.) and Orrin Hatch (Utah) recently unveiled an alternative in the upper chamber that could factor into the House GOP’s yet-to-be seen proposal.

A source close to Cantor noted the similarities of the plans and general agreement among members of the party that an alternative should include the ability to purchase insurance across state lines, the creation of high-risk pools for individuals with pre-existing conditions and medical malpractice reform.

At a time when Obama’s numbers have sunk to the lowest in his presidency — in part over his signature healthcare law — House Republicans believe it is imperative to offer an alternative ahead of the midterm elections.

Scalise said, “I want to repeal ObamaCare and the American people don’t like ObamaCare. I think they get that [House Republicans] are against it, and for a lot of people that is enough. There’s still a percentage of the country that doesn’t like ObamaCare, but they want to see what we are for.”