House GOP leadership intends to put forward a formal framework for repealing and replacing Obamacare, but has so far stopped short of promising to turn that framework into actual legislative text.
Should leaders decline to take that next step, it won't sit well with Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise.
"I feel good about where we are right now," the Louisiana Republican told CQ Roll Call in a phone interview on Monday, "but we're not done until we get a bill on the floor. "We're going to continue to push to make sure we have a single alternative health care bill brought to the floor," Scalise continued, "because that's the best way to highlight the difference between what [Democrats] stand for and what we stand for."
Under Scalise's leadership, the RSC introduced legislation late last year that would strike down the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a new health law. The majority of House Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors.
Leadership didn't immediately take the bait , however, and has only recently expressed an interest in propping up their Obamacare repeal-and-replace rhetoric with tangible suggestions for how Republicans would fix health care policy in America.
In establishing a working group that incorporates a variety of voices within the House GOP Conference, including that of Scalise, party leaders sought to quell concerns that they might be trying to marginalize the more conservative viewpoints in the rank and file. That might have been a particular worry given leadership's indication that it won't be advancing the RSC repeal-and-replace bill through the legislative process.
"Whoever's name is on the bill is irrelevant," Scalise said. "What is relevant is bringing conservative ideas to the floor."
A GOP leadership aide told CQ Roll Call on Monday that the goal is, and always has been, putting either one bill or a package of bills on the floor by the year's end, but the first item of business is establishing consensus from within the rank-and-file on how to proceed.
During the House GOP retreat at the end of January, leaders released a set of "principles" on overhauling the health care system that closely mirrored their principles on immigration, which overwhelmingly became the focus of the three-day issues conference in Cambridge, Md.
Next month, the aide continued, leaders will unveil a more formalized set of health care principles more closely resembling legislative language, which lawmakers will be encouraged to tout to constituents during the next two-week recess.
It's not outside the realm of possibility, however, that health care principles, like immigration principles, could ultimately fall to the wayside as leaders weigh the risks of acting on legislation — and try to whip votes.
Scalise wasn't ready on Monday to doom the effort to the legislative graveyard, however, saying that he has already succeeded in carrying out what he calls the core component of his job description : Pushing leadership in a more conservative direction.
"I've always had a good attitude," Scalise said. "I thought the power of ideas would win out" over GOP leaders' reluctance to move forward on an Obamacare repeal-and-replace effort, adding that "our membership is hungry for bold ideas.
"Leadership was saying six months ago, 'we're not doing anything, just Obamacare oversight,'" he said. "I think it's clear that the RSC has moved our leadership over the last six months."