Conservatives Sound The Alarm: Why Is Obamacare Repeal Taking So Long?

Linda Door of Laguna Beach, Ca., protests outside the United States Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, March 26, 2012, as the court begins hearing arguments on the constitutionality of President Barack Obama's heal... Linda Door of Laguna Beach, Ca., protests outside the United States Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, March 26, 2012, as the court begins hearing arguments on the constitutionality of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, derisively labeled "Obamacare" by its opponents. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) MORE LESS
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Lauren Fox contributed reporting.

With the Affordable Care Act squarely in their sights, conservative lawmakers and activists are beginning to wonder why the GOP leadership in Congress isn’t pulling the trigger.

It’s been over a month since the new GOP-controlled Congress came to Washington, and three months since President Trump’s surprise victory secured for Republicans an opportunity to do away with President Obama’s signature legislative achievement. Yet lawmakers, at least in their public statements, have not moved far in their plan to do so, beyond a vote on a procedural first step.

The lack of action — and even the lack of clarity about what eventual action will look like — is causing frustration among the GOP’s right flank and its outside organizations.

“They need a fire lit under their asses, and we’re not seeing that right now,” Jason Pye, director of public policy and legislative affairs at FreedomWorks, a conservative grassroots organization, told TPM.

Congressional leaders signaled early on after the election that repealing the Affordable Care Act would be Republicans’ first priority. The initial goal of putting a repeal bill on Trump’s desk by inauguration was obviously ambitious, but the deadlines that have followed — including getting a bill signed by Trump a month later –have also been pushed back.

Lawmakers now say that they expect a repeal bill to move on the House floor in March, with a similar timeline being offered in the Senate.

Not everyone in the House GOP conference is happy that the brakes are being pumped. Conservative Reps. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Jim Jordan (R-OH), the respective current and former chairs of the House Freedom Caucus, issued a statement on Thursday urging a vote on a repeal bill “as soon as possible.”

“Let’s get after it as soon as we can and repeal everything: every tax, every mandate and most importantly, every single regulation,” Jordan said at a reporter briefing earlier last week.

Reps. Mark Meadows (R-NC), left, and Jim Jordan (R-OH) in 2013.

His House Freedom Caucus colleague, Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), accused Republicans of “scurrying around” now that they have power to overhaul the health care system.

“That’s unfortunate, because the time was there,” Perry told reporters, referring to the years before the election Republicans had to build consensus around a replacement plan.

Meadows, meanwhile, said at the GOP’s congressional retreat late last month that there were “still a lot of decisions that have to be made in the coming weeks before we can vote on something in the House.”

“It’s time that we start talking about specifics, negotiating back and forth on what works and doesn’t work for our constituencies,” Meadows said.

And it’s not just the House where Republicans are concerned. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), along with Jordan and Meadows, will be participating in a roundtable this coming Wednesday organized by the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank, titled “Congress Must Repeal Obamacare Immediately.”

At the outset of the new term, the path for repeal seemed clear. GOP lawmakers could just repeat the maneuver they went through a little over a year ago, when they passed a repeal bill, through a process known as reconciliation, that was vetoed by President Obama. The advantage of reconciliation, which is limited to legislation that affects the budget, is that it avoids a Democratic filibuster in the Senate. Republicans already have 51 current senators on record favoring the 2015 version of the bill.

But that plan quickly became bogged down by a debate over whether lawmakers needed a replacement ready when they repealed the ACA for good. (The 2015 bill delayed some aspects of repeal by two years, so lawmakers had time to iron out an alternative). Republicans are now even split on the scope of the repeal bill itself, disagreeing over whether to keep the ACA’s taxes, its subsidies to insurers, and its expansion of Medicaid.

“The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing,” Pye said.

The process laid out in a budget resolution approved in Congress last month instructed the relevant committees to write repeal legislation to submit to House and Senate budget committees by Jan. 27. That was always understood to be a soft deadline, but the announcement by interim House Budget Chair Diane Black (R-TN) that it would probably be late February or early March when a repeal bill was ready to move onto the floor prompted Heritage to warn on its Daily Signal blog that “Congressional Delay Threatens Obamacare Repeal.”

“This is leading some to doubt whether the GOP is still serious about dismantling the law,” Heritage’s research group vice president James Wallner wrote.

Michael A. Needham, the CEO of Heritage’s political organization, Heritage Action, issued his own statement in response to the delay.

“Congress cannot allow the timeline to continue to slip. Not only does it delay work on other legislative priorities, but millions of Americans are suffering from the harmful side effects of Obamacare,” he said.

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