New GOP senator: ‘Tide rising’ against ObamaCare

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In the homestretch of the GOP’s battle against ObamaCare, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said he is seeing a groundswell of angry voters that is helping advance the party’s chances of a full repeal.

“There is a tide rising,” Cassidy repeated three times in an interview with The Hill on Friday.

Fresh off the campaign trail, the newly-elected senator said he is seeing “all these angry people” amplify their calls for repeal as they start seeing the effects of ObamaCare. 

Ultimately, Republicans argue that growing chorus of criticism provides new fuel in their fight against the healthcare law even as the president remains in office.

“As the tide rises, that which people previously thought could not happen, all the sudden folks begin to look to as a needed option,” Cassidy said in his 7th floor corner office in the Senate’s Hart building.

“It’s only worsening. It’s only getting worse,” Cassidy said of the law. He pointed out recent ObamaCare headaches for the administration, such as incriminating comments from its former adviser Jonathan Gruber and criticism from its longtime ally Sen. Chuck SchumerCharles SchumerOvernight Healthcare: House, Senate on collision course over Zika funding Ryan goes all-in on Puerto Rico Cruz's dad: Trump 'would be worse than Hillary Clinton' MORE (D-NY).

Cassidy, who spent 30 years as a physician before entering politics, is already promising to be one of the Senate’s biggest players on healthcare this year.

During his first two weeks in the upper chamber, Cassidy pushed two bills to gut key provisions of ObamaCare. He also landed a seat on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which has jurisdiction on most parts of the healthcare law.

Acknowledging that his anti-ObamaCare bills would be blocked by a veto, Cassidy argued that the GOP, nonetheless, wouldn’t win the White House back without a sharp focus on healthcare.

“This position now forces the conversation and may have a little bit more legs than people imagine because those running for reelection, or for election, in 2016 will be hearing from lots of folks on this,” he said.

Until then, Cassidy said he is keeping his attention on what he called “the elephant in the room” in the ObamaCare debate: King v. Burwell.

The Supreme Court case, which questions the legality of healthcare subsidies in three dozen states, is the party’s best shot at taking down ObamaCare, he said.

“It’s obviously the Republican opportunity to put forward an alternative,” Cassidy said.

The Republican party has recently begun plotting its response to the King v. Burwell case, which will likely be decided in July. The case was a major point of discussion during a closed-door session on healthcare Thursday at the Republican’s bicameral retreat in Hershey, Pa.

While the Obama administration has expressed confidence that the subsidies will be upheld, the court’s decision to take up the case has made Democrats nervous. A half-dozen lawmakers who helped write the law in 2010 have tried to make their case by writing op-eds and doing rounds on news shows ahead of oral arguments on March 4.  

Pressure has been building for Republicans to create ObamaCare alternatives in the case of another Supreme Court surprise, which would likely come down in June. Some within the GOP have raised concerns about the decision, with one Senate GOP aide saying recently the party lacks “any coherent response” to the case.

Cassidy said Republicans are already coalescing around a plan in case the subsidies are struck down.

In place of subsidies, the GOP will call for the use of “advanceable, refundable tax credits, which can only be used to purchase health care,” he said. State exchanges would be turned into information clearinghouses, modeled after those in Utah, where individuals could find the best deal.

And if the Obama administration wins?

“This will be a political albatross for the Democratic party and it will be re-litigated in the 2016 election,” Cassidy said.

As the GOP plans its next move on ObamaCare, Cassidy has been caught in a debate on a surprisingly heated topic: the medical device tax.

Repealing the 2.3 percent manufacturing tax quickly became one of the Senate GOP’s top priorities in 2015, though Tea Party groups have dismissed the effort as a deal for big businesses.

Cassidy, who won his tight Senate contest against incumbent Sen. Mary LandrieuMary Landrieu oil is changing the world and Washington Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Republican announces bid for Vitter’s seat MORE (D-La.) with help from the Tea Party, said he agrees that party should instead focus on repealing ObamaCare mandates hurting individuals and small businesses.

He blasted the handful of Democratic senators who are now trying to repeal the medical device tax as “taking care of large corporations.”

But in his first bill as a senator, Cassidy proposed to do away with the employer and the individual mandate – as well as the medical device tax.

When asked why his bill included the medical device tax, Cassidy explained the policy is “forcing” companies to relocate overseas, noting one company in New Orleans that is mulling a move to Panama.   

“Not Panama City. Panama,” he said.