Republicans impatient with leaders, awaiting healthcare alternative

Some House Republicans are growing frustrated that their leaders have not yet introduced a healthcare reform alternative.

For months, the message from House GOP leaders on a healthcare bill has been similar to ads for yet-to-be-released movies: Coming soon.

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According to several GOP lawmakers, the leadership is split over how to proceed in terms of unveiling an alternative to the final Democratic bill that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) intends to unveil as soon as this week.

Rep. Tom Price (Ga.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC), revealed the schism within his party late last week.

“There’s a difference of opinion over what ought to be the strategy from a political standpoint on this issue. I happen to believe we ought to have a bill. There are others who believe, as strongly, that the principles that would be outlined and would be adhered to in the Republican bill are what need to be discussed because everybody can embrace those principles,” Price said last week.

The RSC has proposed its own healthcare reform plan.

Adding to the frustration is the fact that GOP leaders promised in June that they would introduce a leadership-endorsed measure.

At the time, Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told The Hill that his party was weeks away from coming forward with a “leadership-backed alternative that will reflect a combination [of] plans that have been developing over the last several months … with an insistence that we don’t have a government takeover.”

Republicans are quick to note they support various healthcare reform initiatives, such as medical liability reform. But getting most, if not all, of the Republican Conference to sign onto a specific plan would be very challenging.

If Republican leaders do not coalesce behind a plan, Democrats will repeat their claims that the GOP is “the party of no.”

And if they do back a plan, it will either be attacked by Democrats for not covering many of the uninsured — or be lambasted by the GOP base for crafting an expensive alternative.

One House Republican who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, “The fact is, [GOP leaders] are very concerned with doing anything that the base would interpret as ‘Democrat-lite’ or ‘socialized-lite’ … which is forcing a little of paralysis.”

Democrats, including Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.), have been relishing the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t pickle Republicans are in. They note that it has been more than four months since Republicans guaranteed they would have a bill.

GOP political insiders say that the leadership will not likely make a decision until Democrats introduce the final legislative text of their bill.

Strategically, Republican aides say, it would make little sense for the minority party to show its cards before seeing what the Democrats include in their measure.

“The specific decisions on how we will offer our ideas during floor debate won’t be revealed until Democrats finalize their bill. We’re not going to give them our playbook until we see theirs,” a GOP leadership aide explained.

Prior to the August recess, Rep. Roy Blunt (Mo.) the head of the GOP Healthcare Solutions Group, admitted that his party didn’t need to offer a unified plan, noting that Democrats were taking so much heat for the proposals moving through the lower chamber at that time.

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House GOP Leader John Boehner (Ohio) has tasked Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (R-La.) with working with fellow GOP members on the Ways and Means Committee to craft legislation.

Boustany, a Ways and Means member serving his third term, has been an advocate for putting forward a leadership-endorsed measure.

“The decision at the leadership level was made to wait until it looks like things are going to happen, to move,” Boustany, a retired physician, told The Hill on Monday.
GOP lawmakers pressing leaders to endorse one bill acknowledge that their leaders would face a tough task of convincing centrists and conservatives in the 177-member conference to agree on anything more than the principles put forward by Blunt’s group earlier in the year.

“It seems that the plan right now is letting us get our own plan,” the Republican legislator said, “do our own thing, get our own bill, go back to our district and talk about how we’re working on whatever, as opposed to having one comprehensive plan that would probably be just as difficult to get all the Republicans to agree to as it is Pelosi getting all the Democrats.”

Senate Republicans have not unveiled an alternative healthcare reform bill, saying they plan to change the Democratic bill with amendments during the floor debate.