Debate rages in the GOP over ObamaCare repeal

Debate rages in the GOP over ObamaCare repeal
© Greg Nash

A debate is raging in the Republican Party over the future of ObamaCare, with some urging the party to take another shot at repeal in 2018.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Overnight Finance: Lawmakers see shutdown odds rising | Trump calls for looser rules for bank loans | Consumer bureau moves to revise payday lending rule | Trump warns China on trade deficit MORE (R-Ky.), whose majority will fall to a single seat in January, has signaled he intends to move on from legislation repealing the Affordable Care Act and instead look for bills that can pass with bipartisan support.

"Well, we obviously were unable to completely repeal and replace with a 52-48 Senate," McConnell told NPR. "We'll have to take a look at what that looks like with a 51-49 Senate. But I think we'll probably move on to other issues."

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That answer isn’t sitting well with some conservatives, who say the party shouldn’t turn its back on a long-standing campaign pledge.

Repealing ObamaCare is “absolutely necessary for the conservative base,” said Dan Holler, a spokesman for Heritage Action.

As congressional Republicans decide what major legislation to tackle next year, it “needs to be ObamaCare,” Holler said.

Heading into a midterm election year, Republican leaders are eager to leave behind the turmoil of the ObamaCare repeal push — a failed effort that wasted months of valuable time — and turn to issues like welfare reform.

Like McConnell, Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders pitch children's health funding in plan to avert shutdown Lawmakers see shutdown’s odds rising Fix what we’ve got and make Medicare right this year MORE (R-Wis.) has made clear he’s eager to tackle other legislative priorities next year.

“I don’t think the health care issue is done,” Ryan said in an interview with The Weekly Standard published Friday. The report noted Ryan indicated a willingness to return to ObamaCare as soon as January.

“At the end of the day, we’ve got to go after the root cause — health care inflation and entitlements. Welfare reform is going to be our next lift,” Ryan said. 

The emerging focus on reforms to domestic programs does have support on the right, as many conservative groups have long called for action to rein in programs like food stamps and Medicaid.

FreedomWorks is supportive of the welfare reform effort, according to Jason Pye, the group’s vice president of legislative affairs.

“I think the House is outlining some ambitious plans for next year,” Pye said. “We’re certainly on board with that, moving on welfare reform or welfare reform and entitlement reform.”

McConnell, meanwhile, has talked of wanting to seek bipartisan victories in 2018 and pointed to infrastructure as a likely area of cooperation.

"I think it's pretty popular with Democrats and Republicans," McConnell said at an Axios event Thursday.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpDems flip Wisconsin state Senate seat Sessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants GOP rep: 'Sheet metal and garbage' everywhere in Haiti MORE has long urged action on infrastructure and is expected to release a legislative proposal next year. He tweeted support Friday for working with Democrats on a bill. 

“At some point, and for the good of the country, I predict we will start working with the Democrats in a Bipartisan fashion. Infrastructure would be a perfect place to start. After having foolishly spent $7 trillion in the Middle East, it is time to start rebuilding our country!” Trump tweeted. 

But conservative groups warn Republicans should not stray from the core issues that helped them win power in 2016.

“It's important for Republican members of Congress to recall that they made a promise during last year's campaign to repeal ObamaCare,” said Andy Roth, vice president of government affairs at Club for Growth, a conservative group.

“So even though they had a difficult time doing that earlier this year, they still owe it to the American public to try again,” he said. “We definitely think that they need to tackle it.”

Asked whether Republicans should use reconciliation to pass an ObamaCare repeal bill, Roth responded: “If they think they can tackle entitlement reform of a material size, and whether that’s ObamaCare repeal or welfare reform, they’ve got to do one or the other.”

Rep. Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerGOP leaders pitch children's health funding in plan to avert shutdown House Republicans press for harder-line immigration bill Even some conservatives seem open to return to earmarks MORE (R-N.C.), the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said he hopes Republicans can get both entitlement reform and ObamaCare repeal done next year.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDHS chief takes heat over Trump furor Overnight Defense: GOP chair blames Dems for defense budget holdup | FDA, Pentagon to speed approval of battlefield drugs | Mattis calls North Korea situation 'sobering' Bipartisan group to introduce DACA bill in House MORE (R-S.C.), who has co-authored an ObamaCare repeal bill with Sen. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyTrump allies see 's---hole' controversy as overblown GOP senator: Leaking Trump’s alleged Oval Office comments ‘undermines trust’ Dems quiz Trump HHS nominee on drug pricing MORE (R-La.), last week reiterated his commitment to pushing his legislation in 2018.

“To those who believe — including Senate Republican leadership — that in 2018 there will not be another effort to Repeal and Replace Obamacare — well you are sadly mistaken,” Graham tweeted, along with a link to McConnell’s NPR comments.

McConnell and others have noted the difficulty Republicans are likely to have in passing an ObamaCare repeal bill with a 51-49 majority. Repeal legislation failed in the Senate repeatedly this year, when the GOP still enjoyed a 52-48 advantage. 

With the midterm elections fast approaching, passing ObamaCare repeal legislation could prove a heavy lift.

“The Graham–Cassidy proposal, they intend to, obviously, continue to work on. And my view of that is, as soon as we have the votes to achieve it, I would like to do that,” McConnell said at a year-end press conference Friday. “The only observation I made yesterday that you may be referring to is, 51-49 is a pretty — is a pretty tight majority. But I'd love to be able to make more substantial changes to Obamacare than we have.” 

Failing to repeal ObamaCare was a “big broken promise” that conservatives will remember, Pye, of FreedomWorks, said. But he too acknowledged the challenge of getting 51 votes in the Senate. 

"[Graham's] comments on Twitter the other day, just saying that it's imperative that we come back and revisit this issue at some point in time, I think he's absolutely right. We should,” Pye said. “But there's got to be some evidence of getting to 50 or 51 before we can do that."