By KELLIE MEJDRICH and PAUL M. KRAWZAK
CQ Roll Call
Congressional Republicans’ struggle to take the first step toward repealing and replacing the health care law using a fiscal 2017 budget resolution intensified Wednesday, as they debated how soon to roll out a replacement and defended their coordination with their incoming president.
President-elect Donald Trump suggested in a press conference Wednesday that the repeal and replacement of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law will occur simultaneously or nearly simultaneously. While that timetable appears to defy what Republicans in the House and Senate have set out to do, top Republicans and their aides insisted that the incoming president and Congress are not at odds and that repeal and replacement will succeed.
“We are going to be submitting, as soon as our secretary is approved, almost simultaneously, shortly thereafter, a plan,” Trump said, referring to his pick for Health and Human Services secretary, Georgia GOP Rep. Tom Price.
“It’ll be repeal, replace, it will be essentially simultaneously, it will be various segments, you understand, but will most likely be on the same day, or the same week, but probably the same day, could be the same hour,” Trump added. “So we’re going to do repeal and replace, very complicated stuff, and we’re going to get a health bill passed, we’re going to get health care taken care of in this country.”
North Carolina Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, the House GOP’s chief deputy whip, disputed that Trump’s latest comments contradict lawmakers’ plans, and McHenry predicted a detailed replacement plan will follow not long after repeal.
“We’re going to have a repeal of Obamacare, which will pass the House, the Senate and get on the president’s desk,” he said Wednesday. “The president will sign it. And as the president-elect said in his press conference today, they’ll outline in detail once he has a secretary of Health and Human Services, once he’s in office, once he can lay out the administrative actions and the legislative solutions they need to actually make a better health care marketplace and get better results for the American people and stop the disaster of Obamacare.”
Referring to the budget resolution, McHenry said lawmakers “can do our part now in this opening act in Congress before the inauguration and I think we’ll do it.” He said the House has enough GOP votes to adopt the budget resolution, which greenlights the budget process that will be used for repeal in separate legislation.
When asked whether Trump was contradicting the schedule set out by the congressional GOP, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the messages regarding repeal and replace from the president-elect and the GOP Senate leader are the same. The aide pointed to remarks the Kentucky Republican made Tuesday.
McConnell said in response to questions about the repeal-and-replace timetable that “it’ll be done in conjunction with the administration and the House, but the first step toward replacement is to repeal, and that step will be taken this week.”
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said it’s still an “open question” whether there are enough votes to adopt the budget. But he added that if he were to handicap it, he would expect enough details of replacement will be provided to members ahead of the vote for leaders to obtain adoption of the budget. Meadows, a North Carolina Republican, said he and most members of the Freedom Caucus are still undecided but that a few whipped as “hard yes” or “hard no.”
He said he does not expect any Republican amendments to be offered to the budget in the House and predicted a vote on a repeal bill in February.
Trump first rocked congressional Republicans’ efforts by telling The New York Times in an article published Tuesday that he wanted to see repeal of the law and a replacement occur “very quickly or simultaneously, very shortly thereafter.”
House Republicans have begun growing more uneasy about GOP efforts to repeal the health care law without an explicit replacement plan. Senators were set to forge ahead Wednesday night with the so-called vote-a-rama that precedes a final vote on the fiscal 2017 budget resolution.
Meanwhile, House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady said Tuesday he favors repealing all the taxes in the health care law immediately, putting him at odds with some Senate Republicans who have suggested the possibility of delaying repeal of some of the taxes to help pay for continued health benefits.
“Those 23 taxes are causing real damages to families, to our small businesses, to the economy, as well, along with the key mandates to drive up the expense of Obamacare, all those need to be repealed immediately because, look, Obamacare is getting worse,” the Texas Republican said in an interview with Bloomberg. “It’s failed, it’s getting worse, it will continue to get worse. So we need to send a very clear signal, relief is on the way.”
The speed of replacement is clearly on senators’ minds. One of the Senate budget amendments most likely to win approval is one offered by Tennessee Republican Bob Corker that would extend the reporting deadline for reconciliation legislation to March 3 from Jan. 27. Corker and several other Republicans see the amendment as providing more time for a replacement to be hammered out before a repeal bill is reported to the floor.
Still, the odds likely are against approval. Even if the deadline remains Jan. 27, the authorizing committees could miss it and report their recommendations later without penalty. Plus, some senators may want to keep the budget resolution free of complicating amendments.
Once adopted by the House and Senate, the budget resolution provides reconciliation instructions to the House Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce committees and to the Senate Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees to write repeal legislation and submit it to their respective budget committees.
House and Senate Democrats continued their assault on the budget Wednesday, emphasizing that Republicans should drop their repeal efforts and instead modify the health care law in a bipartisan fashion, though that is unlikely.
Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin pointed to the Republican-sponsored amendment to delay the repeal process as evidence that Senate Republicans were having misgivings.
“The problem with that approach is they’ve had seven years … so what are we going to do in the meantime?” the Illinois Democrat said. “Let’s find a way to make the Affordable Care Act even stronger, better, fairer. … Don’t repeal it.”
And Trump’s remarks were met with ridicule by one of the House’s top Democrats, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland.
“I think he has no concept of how difficult this task will be,” Hoyer said of Trump’s push for a quick repeal and replacement.
“We’re not for replacing,” Hoyer said of the law. “We’re for improving where improvements can be made.”
However, Hoyer acknowledged that Democrats would not want to leave the American people without health care security, suggesting a willingness to engage in a replacement effort if Republicans are successful in repealing the law.
Hoyer also told reporters that House Budget Committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky, will be asking for a vote on a Democratic substitute for the fiscal 2017 budget resolution.
Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.