GOP Sours on Obamacare Repeal; Next Attempt Unlikely Before 2019

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By Alex Ruoff

House Republicans won’t renew their effort to repeal the ACA and its taxes this year, likely delaying another attempt until 2019, lawmakers said March 27.

The two committees responsible for designing the House’s failed Affordable Care Act repeal legislation have no plans to try again, Reps. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said. With midterm elections coming in 2018, the Republican effort to repeal the ACA is likely delayed until 2019, Collins told Bloomberg BNA.

“The wounds are so deep and so raw,” Collins said of the failure to pass the repeal bill. “This year we’ll work on things we can come together on, like tax reform.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) spoke with President Donald Trump over the weekend about his legislative agenda and renewing the push to repeal the ACA, a spokeswoman for Ryan’s office told Bloomberg BNA. Ryan is expected to talk to House Republicans about the issue the week of March 27.

However, a spokesman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss committee issues, told Bloomberg BNA the panel has a full agenda ahead and doesn’t expect to return to repeal anytime soon.

Some lawmakers say the only path forward for a health care bill is a bipartisan one.

The leader of the moderate Republican caucus, the Tuesday Group, called on his colleagues to work with Democrats on shared health goals, such as repealing the ACA’s 40 percent excise tax on portions of high-cost health plans, known as the Cadillac tax.

Continued Push for Repeal

Conservative groups like Heritage Action for America, which opposed the House repeal bill, told Bloomberg BNA they’re going to continue pushing for repeal of the ACA in 2017. Several Republican lawmakers in recent days have also touted their own signature health bills.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) told reporters he thinks the Senate could now act on some version of the legislation he introduced with moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). He said any legislation coming through the Senate should have bipartisan support.

Cassidy, however, said he doesn’t expect movement on a repeal bill in the near future. He predicted premiums for plans sold on the individual marketplace will rise considerably in coming years, forcing lawmakers to act.

“I think some of the things that the Obama administration did to try to keep premiums down the Trump administration simply won’t do,” he said, referring to the ACA’s payments to insurers that take on costly beneficiaries.

Cassidy, along with three other senators, introduced a bill in January that would keep the ACA’s taxes and allow states to decide if they want to keep the health law’s expanded federal Medicaid funding. The legislation would lift the ACA’s individual mandate but would automatically enroll Americans in an insurance plan they can opt out of, if they choose.

Not everyone in the Senate is preaching bipartisanship as the only way to pass a health reform bill.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told reporters he doesn’t expect any Democrats to support an ACA repeal bill or for Republicans to look for fixes to the health law. He said Republicans can unite and pass a repeal bill by party lines.

“I don’t think we’ve spent enough time figuring out a solution,” he said.

Paul’s sentiment is echoed by conservative groups. Dan Holler, vice president of Heritage Action, told Bloomberg BNA that Republicans can’t wait until 2019 to act. He said they need to come together on a repeal bill.

“Americans entrusted Republicans to pursue an ambitious agenda, not an easy one,” he said.

Unclear is the future of the budget reconciliation bill Republicans were going to use to pass the House ACA repeal bill. The reconciliation process allows passage of legislation that affects the federal budget by a simple majority, which Republicans currently hold in the Senate.

If Republicans use the reconciliation bill originally slated for their repeal bill to pass a tax reform package, then they’ll need to pass another budget bill in order to take another shot at the ACA.

Pushing for Bipartisanship

Some moderate Republicans don’t want to revisit the budget reconciliation process for ACA repeal at all. Rather, they said, work with Democrats to overhaul the health law.

Rep. Charles Dent (R-Pa.) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) told reporters March 27 that Republicans need to reach out to Democrats on shared goals. Dent said he’s working with some freshman Democrats.

Dent was a major figure in the House’s effort to pass an ACA repeal bill—and its downfall. As head of the moderate Tuesday Group, he pushed for temporarily keeping federal funds for states that expanded their Medicaid programs under the ACA and for refundable tax credits to help poor Americans purchase insurance.

Democrats, however, have largely different priorities in their health-care agenda than their Republican colleagues.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told Blooomberg BNA he’s willing to reach across the aisle to extend health insurance coverage to more Americans to buttress public health insurance programs, not gut them.

“I’m not willing to meet them halfway on their lousy repeal,” Pallone said. “I want to expand coverage and allow more benefits and make for less out-of-pocket costs. That’s where we have to go.”

—With assistance from Colleen Murphy

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Brian Broderick at bbroderick@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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