GOP split over how to tackle ObamaCare

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Republicans are struggling to reach a consensus on how to deal with ObamaCare now that they control both chambers of Congress for the first time since the law was passed.

GOP leaders are under enormous pressure from the grassroots to undo Obama’s signature achievement, but they are also hearing calls to show they can govern in the run-up to 2016, when the party hopes to control the White House as well as the Senate and House.

That sets up a test: how to balance the promise to take down the Affordable Care Act with a pledge to be productive.

“The big elephant in the room is ObamaCare now that we’ve got control,” a Senate GOP aide acknowledged.

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While most hard-line conservatives oppose any changes to ObamaCare, insisting that the entire law should be repealed, other Republicans say the party should eliminate the more damaging parts of the law, such as the requirement that some businesses provide healthcare to all employees working at least 30 hours a week.

The difficulty in forging a partywide strategy was highlighted Tuesday by Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanRyan: Graham-Cassidy 'best, last chance' to repeal ObamaCare Ryan: Americans want to see Trump talking with Dem leaders Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE (Wis.), the incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and an influential Republican in the chamber.

Ryan argued the healthcare law is “beyond repair” and cannot be fixed, but then backed one change: tweaking the employer mandate so businesses would only have to offer healthcare to employees who work a full 40 hours per week.

“Just because we can’t fix Obamacare doesn’t mean we can’t start to get rid of its worst features,” he wrote in an op-ed in USA Today.

Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck brushed off suggestions there was any contradiction in the chairman’s comments. He said in an email Wednesday that the bill is “obviously consistent” with the House strategy to “make targeted strikes on the law, while building the larger plan to ultimately repeal and replace it.”

Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.), who is sponsoring a bill in the House to repeal ObamaCare's controversial medical device tax, acknowledged the divide in his party.

“A lot of these members are passionate about repealing the entire law,” he said. “But I think a lot of these members also recognize that one of the methods to get there might be to dismantle it piece by piece.”

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Ryan: Graham-Cassidy 'best, last chance' to repeal ObamaCare Collins skeptical of new ObamaCare repeal effort MORE (R-Maine), who is leading the Senate effort to change the bill’s employer mandate, said her bill is more “realistic” than a GOP effort to repeal ObamaCare, which would be vetoed by the president.

“My focus, despite my opposition to the law, is to try to fix it,” she told The Hill. “We know the president is going to veto a bill that repeals his signature accomplishment. I don’t know if we could even get it through the Senate.”

GOP leaders have promised to hold a vote on repealing ObamaCare, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate passes 0B defense bill Overnight Health Care: New GOP ObamaCare repeal bill gains momentum Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE (R-Ky.) has acknowledged the bill would be a dead letter.

He has instead vowed to pick apart the healthcare law “root and branch,” though lawmakers say details on his plan won’t emerge until after next week, when House and Senate Republicans meet for their first joint retreat in years.

House Republicans’ conservative caucus, the Republican Study Committee (RSC), is also working out details on its ObamaCare plans but intends to keep repeal at the top of its list, an aide said. The RSC released a bill to replace the law in 2013.

“The top priority of the members is getting something that repeals the employer mandate while also pressing for vote on repeal as soon as possible,” the aide said.

The White House has remained defiant in the face of a new GOP assault on the law, threatening on Wednesday to veto the House version of the 40-hour workweek bill.

Democrats are hoping Republicans overreach on ObamaCare, and are highlighting what they argue are the law’s positive effects.

On Wednesday, the party circulated a Gallup survey that found the percentage of U.S. adults without health insurance had dropped to 12.9 percent — a significant decrease from the 17.1 percent rate one year ago.

With the GOP taking full control of Congress, healthcare lobbyists say they’re getting a long-awaited chance to tinker with the edges of the Affordable Care Act.

Former Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.), an adviser to the business-focused law firm McGuire Woods, said the Republican Party appears increasingly willing to address pieces of ObamaCare, such as the medical device tax, compared to the early years of the law when small tweaks were off-limits.

“I just think a majority [of Republicans] will ultimately conclude that, after they’ve tried to get everything they want, that something’s better than nothing,” said Bayh, who consults on healthcare issues and has worked to eliminate the medical device tax.

 

— Bernie Becker contributed.