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Senate GOP Has No Definite Options in Response to Obamacare Case

Barrasso, center, said the GOP will continue to prepare for the King v. Burwell ruling. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The GOP hasn't "signed off" on a plan to respond should the Supreme Court strike down most health insurance subsidies in King v. Burwell, Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Barrasso said on the eve of oral arguments in the case.  

Pressed for details on how a plan the Wyoming Republican offered with two Senate colleagues might compare to the current structure of the Affordable Care Act or a two-part "off-ramp out of Obamacare" put forth by three House GOP committee chairman, Barrasso said discussions were ongoing. He said a transition would likely involve federal funds, and that Republican governors would likely have a say. Accompanied by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, Barrasso trekked to the high court Wednesday to hear oral argument in the case. All three have criticized the White House for not having an alternative policy should the justices rule against the law.  

“Republicans will continue to prepare for the Court’s ruling," Barrasso said in a statement after the hearing. "We agree that we should protect people harmed by the administration’s actions and provide states and people with a way out of Obamacare’s costly rules. Republicans are considering a wide range of ideas for stopping the damage caused by President Obama’s unlawful actions.”  

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats continue to belittle GOP efforts to draft a replacement.  

"These so-called plans that are being rushed out to influence the court are not worth the paper they’re printed on," Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said during a Tuesday conference call. He predicted opponents' plans would "fall woefully short of anything that could be called a replacement."  

"Even if the plans could be actually drafted and introduced as a bill, there’s no guarantee they’d come close to passing," Schumer said. "The opponents can’t even agree to keep our homeland security funded for three weeks while ISIL and Al-Shabaab are threatening the U.S. How are we supposed to believe they can come together to pass a healthcare replacement plan with all the diversity in the Republican caucus?”  

Sen. Jeff Merkley also hammered the GOP's performance on Homeland Security funding, saying it didn't bode well for drafting health care legislation. "It would be catastrophic if the court produces a flawed decision in King. V. Burwell," the Oregon Democrat said. "There's no easy fix."  

Democrats also rejected the suggestion Congress could have come up with a fix to correct the language that provoked the lawsuit, if health care was not so hyper-partisan.  

Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., said the court "would essentially have to tell members of Congress that they're lying" to side with plaintiffs.  

"The statute very clearly says that if a state chooses not to move forward with their own exchange, the federal exchange will be defined as the state exchange for the statute's purposes, and so we don't believe that the statute is incorrectly worded," Murphy said. "We don't concede any portion of the plaintiff's argument; thus there's no reason to come back and amend it."  

When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was asked Tuesday if he intended to have a bill ready to go by the time of the ruling  likely June  the Kentucky Republican deferred to Barrasso, who spoke of a "temporary bridge."  The question, Barasso said in a follow-up conversation, "is what would the president sign? You know, to really do a full repeal and replace of the health care law, you're really talking about a Republican president in the White House who would be able to do that."  

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