House to take critical step toward repealing ObamaCare

House to take critical step toward repealing ObamaCare
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The House will vote Friday on a budget resolution that would pave the way for ObamaCare's repeal despite grumbling from some Republicans wary of moving forward without a firm replacement plan ready.

The Senate approved the legislation early Thursday morning, and the House is expected to follow suit before adjourning until the inauguration.

Congressional Republicans are eager to move the budget before President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump pens op-ed on kindergartners learning tech Bharara, Yates tamp down expectations Mueller will bring criminal charges Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open MORE takes office next week and have been coordinating their moves with the incoming administration.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanThe Hill Interview: Budget Chair Black sticks around for now Gun proposal picks up GOP support GOP lawmaker Tim Murphy to retire at end of term MORE (R-Wis.) insisted on Thursday that the House GOP and Trump are on the same page. The president-elect this week urged Congress to follow a repeal vote with a replacement as soon as possible.

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“We are in complete sync. We agree we want to make sure we move these things concurrently, at the same time repeal and replace,” Ryan said at a Capitol news conference.

House Republicans can only lose 23 of their members and still pass legislation on their own. Earlier this week, there were enough wary conservatives and centrists to put the whip count in question.

But by the eve of Friday’s vote, the budget looked likely to pass a day after the Senate approved it on a party-line vote. Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulHouse bill set to reignite debate on warrantless surveillance Authorizing military force is necessary, but insufficient GOP feuds with outside group over analysis of tax framework MORE (R-Ky.) was the only Republican to vote against the budget resolution along with all Democrats.

It’s likely a handful of House Republicans will similarly oppose the measure, but not enough to tank it.

Sources in the conservative House Freedom Caucus predicted the budget would pass, as did several members of the GOP vote-counting operation.

“It's going well,” said Chris Bond, a spokesman for House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.). “We're looking forward to a good vote.”

Two influential conservative groups, Heritage Action and the Club for Growth, are urging Republicans to support the budget and are including the vote on their annual scorecards. Members of Scalise's whip team reminded members of that in arguments to lawmakers still on the fence.

Only three centrist Republicans voted against repealing the healthcare law last January, one of more than 60 times the House passed a bill to undo the law in the last six years. 

The House is likely to see at least twice as many defections on the GOP side on Friday, even though it's the first time a repeal vote could actually lead to the end of ObamaCare.

A handful of conservative lawmakers are already on record saying they will vote no on the GOP budget, griping that it doesn't do enough to tackle federal spending and debt or that leadership has not laid out enough details of how it will go about replacing ObamaCare. They include Freedom Caucus members like Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) and Ken Buck (R-Colo.), as well as another conservative, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.).

“More people are reluctant to support it because they’re taking the first step on a journey and leadership won’t tell them where it’s going to end,” Massie told The Hill on Thursday. “But for me, it’s the numbers.”

“The numbers are too high,” added Buck. “They say to me, ‘The number's not the important part; it's the repeal, the reconciliation.’ But if the number's not the important part, then make it lower.”

The roughly 40-member Freedom Caucus is divided over the issue. Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), a Trump supporter, told The Hill he will support the budget, arguing that Republicans promised during the campaign they would repeal the health law.

“I want to vote for a budget that balances, but I also want to get the repeal going as soon as possible,” he said. “I really don’t believe we’re going to come up with anything that will satisfy the other side. If we put forth our replacement at the time we repeal or a year from now, the fight’s going to be the same.”

DesJarlais, however, said he didn't hold any grudges against some centrist colleagues who are pressing Ryan to replace ObamaCare at the same time the GOP repeals it.

Colleagues “in Pennsylvania or New York, they have a different group of constituents that they answer to,” DesJarlais said. “For me in Tennessee, we didn’t do Medicaid expansion and they went 65 percent for Trump. I respect that [colleagues] have to represent their constituencies as well.

“I think this is a rare opportunity to vote change and we don’t want to squander it.”

Centrist Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) said Thursday that he still had “serious reservations” about voting for the budget resolution without any concrete plans of how to replace ObamaCare.

“Before we take this plane in the air, we better have a damn good idea where we’re gonna land it. Because right now, we’re not sure how we’re gonna land,” Dent told reporters in the Capitol.

Dent warned that the GOP could find the politics of replacing the healthcare law more challenging if they rush ahead without a plan.

“If we repeal without a replacement, I’m not sure that we can pass a replacement. Because those on the left aren’t going to help us. And there’ll be some on the hard right that’ll consider a replacement package ObamaCare-lite,” Dent said. 

Ryan said that Republicans will outline their strategy for replacing the law at the joint House-Senate GOP retreat in Philadelphia a week after the inauguration.

“Some of these steps will be taken by Congress; some of these steps will be taken by the incoming Trump administration” after Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) is confirmed as Health and Human Services secretary, Ryan said. “So this will be a thoughtful, step-by-step process. We’re not going to swap one 2,700-page monstrosity for another.”