GOP group promises ObamaCare replacement plan — soon

GOP group promises ObamaCare replacement plan — soon
© Greg Nash

A group of senior House Republicans is promising to deliver proof that the party is making headway in its six-year struggle to replace ObamaCare. 

"Give us a little time, another month or so," House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) told reporters this week. "I think we’ll be pretty close to a Republican alternative."

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Upton is one member of a four-person task force that is supposed to come up with a replacement plan for the healthcare law, at the behest of Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees House Republican: 'I worry about both sides' of the aisle on DACA Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids MORE (R-Wis.). For now, the group is still in "listening mode," Upton said. When asked who they are listening to, Upton said: "You name it – the world."

Coming up with a plan to replace ObamaCare has been an aim for the Republican Party for so long that it’s become a laugh line even in conservative circles. Despite voting more than 50 times in the House to repeal the law, the GOP has not once voted on legislation to take its place. 

Even now, the healthcare reform task force is not expected to produce an actual bill to replace the law, Ryan’s office said Friday.

“[Legislative] text is not necessary to show exactly what you’re going to do,” spokeswoman AshLee Strong said. “The point is not to have a vote on the floor and have it go nowhere.”

Still, some GOP lawmakers say the hard nudge from Ryan provides a needed boost for the party's healthcare platform in a potentially pivotal election year. This is the first time an ObamaCare replacement plan is getting airtime on Capitol Hill since last summer, when the GOP began preparing plans in case the Supreme Court gutted the law and forced Congress to rewrite it.

After the law was upheld, those plans were shelved. But recently, Ryan asked Upton and three other House GOP chairmen to dust off the cobwebs and release something before the GOP convention in Cleveland begins on July 18.  

The group met most recently on Wednesday, but members are still declining to say exactly how much of a plan they will be laying out. 

Long-time GOP lawmakers and policy experts say they are highly skeptical about the party’s ability to produce a full-blown plan before July. 

One conservative health adviser said there was no way the GOP could do in three months something that it hadn’t done in six years –especially amid the heat of a presidential election campaign.

When first asked about the House’s prospects of replacing the law on Friday, Rep. Michael BurgessMichael Clifton BurgessHarvey response puts squeeze on GOP Medicaid efficiency is needed now, more than ever In the politics of healthcare reform, past is prologue MORE (R-Texas) pretended to hide his face in a bannister in the Capitol building to avoid the question. 

Burgess said he remembers, painfully, when he served as a senior healthcare adviser to Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Meghan McCain knocks Bannon: 'Who the hell are you' to criticize Romney? Dems demand Tillerson end State hiring freeze, consult with Congress MORE (R-Ariz.), during a healthcare-dominated election in 2008.

“[McCain] produced a rather elaborate healthcare plan that we ended up defending for the rest of the election. Of course, Obama could stay at the 30,000-foot level talking about quality, affordable healthcare for all,” said Burgess, who is a member of the GOP Doctors Caucus.

The challenge for 2016 is providing enough details for a GOP presidential candidate to use if he chooses, but not enough to corner him.

“I would say I’m moderately encouraged that’s actually happening,” Burgess said about the House’s plans.

Ryan has made clear that he sees a healthcare plan as a central part of his policy-driven tenure in the House. In his first major speech as Speaker, Ryan said the “most urgent” of the GOP’s tasks in Congress was to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

“We think this problem is so urgent that, next year, we are going to unveil a plan to replace every word of ObamaCare,” Ryan vowed in December

Ryan has some ground to stand on: The self-described policy wonk released an outline of his own healthcare plan last year in the form of a Wall Street Journal op-ed. He also spent years in both the budget and tax committees pushing conservative health bills and reforms.

The GOP’s failure to come up with an alternative healthcare plan has been attacked by Democrats for years. And those attacks resurface during every ObamaCare hearing – including this week’s House Ways and Means Committee hearing on healthcare taxes. 

“We hear rumblings from time to time that the Republicans are about to have a replacement plan,” said Rep. Jim McDermottJim McDermottLobbying World Dem lawmaker: Israel's accusations start of 'war on the American government' Dem to Trump on House floor: ‘Stop tweeting’ MORE (D-Wash.). “The truth is, we will never get a plan out of the Republicans any different than the ACA… There’s no place to go.”

The same argument was made in an op-ed by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman last week, headlined the “The Obamacare Replacement Mirage.”

“It’s not because they’re timid, or lazy, or stupid (they may be all these things, but that’s not why they’ve come up short). It’s because there is no alternative that wouldn’t involve taking coverage away from tens of millions,” Krugman wrote.

Even a Republican member of the committee, Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), said he could acknowledge the Democrats’ broad arguments about the risks of leaving so many people without health insurance.

“That’s a fair criticism, and it’s a fair admonition, and I accept that,” Roskam said during the same hearing, praising Ryan for helping to do the “prelude work” for the next president. 

A focus on replacing ObamaCare could also help distract from Ryan’s other major policy problem – the GOP’s budget.

House leaders blew past a deadline on Friday to approve their spending blueprint for 2017. During an interview on that missed deadline this week, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a member of the budget and appropriations committees, took several other House committees to task for shirking their duties to replace the healthcare law.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve voted against ObamaCare. I’m looking for an opportunity to actually vote for a Republican replacement. It’s been quite a few years,” Cole said.