|Representative Tom McClintock, Republican of California, was escorted by the police from a town hall meeting on Saturday where protesters rallied against repealing the Affordable Care Act. Randall Benton/The Sacramento Bee, via Associated Press|
|Republicans Jim Jordan, left, and Thomas Massie. Rep. Jordan said conservatives are alarmed about talk from centrist Republicans of stopping short of a full repeal of the ACA.Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press|
WASHINGTON—Conservative Republicans, worried about growing voices within the party advising or accepting a slower pace for repealing the Affordable Care Act, are redoubling their push to speed the GOP’s long-desired goal.
President Donald Trump on Sunday became the latest top Republican to sound cautious notes about the party’s ability to rapidly repeal large swaths of the 2010 health law and enact its own vision. He told Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly that “maybe it’ll take until sometime into next year,” saying repeal and replacement was “statutorily” difficult to accomplish quickly.
The remarks reflected the unforgiving congressional math hamstringing the Republican efforts. The party has a narrow 52-48 vote majority in the Senate, and a handful of centrist Senate Republicans have already demanded that the party have a replacement in hand for the health law, sometimes called Obamacare, before they vote to void it.
But the party’s thin congressional margins can also be undone by conservative lawmakers, particularly in the House, where the right-leaning House Freedom Caucus represents a 40-strong contingent. Conservatives see sweeping away the law as an essential first step to hammering out a far-reaching alternative.
Hospital executives have a clear message for Washington: if you dismantle the Affordable Care Act, we want the billions in funding we received before the law was enacted.Now they worry about losing momentum, angering the party’s base and complicating plans for a tax overhaul, which most party leaders believe must happen after an ACA replacement.
“In order for Democrats to negotiate in earnest on a replacement plan, they have to understand that we’re serious about repealing what we currently have,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, said in an interview Monday. “It is critically important we deliver on the promises we made to the American people.”Mr. Meadows said the Freedom Caucus planned to discuss Monday night whether to adopt an official stance in favor of immediate repeal of the law, which would require the support of 80% of their members.
That idea is supported by conservative groups like Heritage Action for America, which is already calling on the House to push forward with an aggressive repeal strategy they hope will force Senate Republicans to follow suit.
“House action is sort of imperative to get this kick-started and going,” said Dan Holler, vice president of communications and government relations for Heritage Action. “I think the longer this drags on, the more people are starting to understand the chance of a repeal is slipping away. Certainly it’s becoming harder and harder with each passing day.”In the Senate, Republicans say they are working on fixing the health-law’s failing components. “We will repair the damage that Obamacare has caused millions of Americans,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) wrote in a statement Sunday. “We will do that by replacing Obamacare with better, lower-cost alternatives and repealing the parts of Obamacare that have caused the damage.”
Conservatives fret that it only gets harder for a new Congress to take sweeping actions as the momentum of their election fades and a new election approaches, causing lawmakers to worry more about the political consequences of taking action.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), another conservative leader, said conservatives are alarmed about the talk from centrist Republicans of stopping short of a full repeal of the ACA. “That causes greater concern,” he said.
Mr. Jordan said House conservatives would continue to push for legislation that at a minimum does as much as a bill passed in early 2016 that would have repealed big chunks of the health law but was vetoed by then-President Barack Obama.
“We should at least be able to put on President Trump’s desk what we put on President Obama’s desk,” Mr. Jordan said.
A White House spokesman said Monday that Mr. Trump remains “fully committed to repealing and replacing Obamacare with a healthcare system that benefits all Americans.” He blamed Senate Democrats for delaying the process by holding up a confirmation of Georgia Rep. Tom Price to head the Department of Health and Human Services.
Mr. Trump signed an executive order on Inauguration Day urging agency heads such as Mr. Price to take actions to unwind parts of the health law and force Congress to act, though that move would come with political risks of its own.
Republicans’ delay in repealing and overhauling the health-care law affects their ability to complete other items. For instance, GOP plans to overhaul the tax code are likely to stall if health-care negotiations drag on.
That is because Republicans plan to use a particular legislative maneuver tied to the budget, allowing them to pass legislation with a simple majority instead of 60 votes, first to repeal the health-care law and then overhaul the tax code.