House GOP Claims It Will Revive Zombie Obamacare Repeal Bill

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., with the GOP leadership, talks about getting past last week’s failure to pass a health care overhaul bill and rebuilding unity in the Republican Conference, at the Capitol,  in Washington, Tuesday, March 28, 2017.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Republicans have had the weekend to think about what it means that they failed in their years-long process to repeal the Affordable Care Act, after they were forced to pull their replacement bill Friday. And they have decided that they want to another shot at it, though they wouldn’t elaborate on the timeline of such an effort or what priority it would take.

“Obamacare is a collapsing law. Obamacare is doing too much damage to families,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) told reporters after a conference meeting Tuesday morning. “And so, we’re going to get this right. And in the meantime, we’re going to do all of our other work that we came here to do.”

He and the other members of the leadership team suggested at the press conference that Republicans would be able to overcome the deep divisions that tore the caucus apart during the Obamacare repeal debate.

“After this morning, the resolve of our conference to repeal Obamacare and replace it has never been stronger,” Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), the majority whip, said. “I think it was really positive, the openness that members have to working to get to yes that weren’t there, and I do think it was important again to point out that the vast majority of our conference was already there in support of the bill that we want to put on President Trump’s desk.”

Coming out of the conference meeting Tuesday, House Republicans — particularly those from the conference’s far-right wing that helped sink the health care bill Friday — swore that last week’s effort was not dead yet and that negotiations could continue. They wouldn’t say what was on the table now that wasn’t being considered last week.

“We were very close to getting to a yes, and then boom the deadline kicks in,” Rep. David Brat (R-VA) said, referring to the desire of leadership to pass the repeal bill on Obamacare’s seventh anniversary last week. “It seems to me folks should go say, ‘Hey, what about the other groups. Why can’t they get to yes?’”

Freedom Caucus Chair Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) told reporters he did not want to discuss the changes to the bill they were seeking publicly, but that “We’re looking at all options to get to yes.”

The conservatives were not alone in their opposition to the legislation, which would have gutted Medicaid, scaled back the ACA’s insurance reforms and reworked its tax credits. Coming out of Tuesday morning’s conference meeting, they were quick to point out the objections of moderates were also pivotal in the bill being pulled Friday afternoon.

“Everyone wants to talk about Freedom Caucus, because it’s easy to villainize them within this conference. But there is just as many people on the other wing of the Republican Party that were opposed to this too,” said Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN).

According to multiple members coming out of the conference meeting, the theme of the meeting was uniting the conference and not isolating certain members. There was no concrete discussion of the coming policy agenda of the conference, the members said, nor did they hash out exactly how they would move forward on health care. Ryan told donors on a phone call surfaced by Washington Post Monday that he would continue to push for health care reform as Republicans addressed other items on their agenda. At Tuesday’s leadership press conference, Ryan said that he would not put an “artificial timeline on it.”

“We have an aggressive agenda and we’ve been moving quickly on this aggressive agenda, but we want to make sure that we get it right,” Ryan said. “We had a very constructive meeting with our members. Some of those who were in the no camp expressed a willingness to work on getting to yes and to making this work.”

Other members said that it was their understanding that the reconciliation bill for 2017 was still available to them to use to overhaul health care, even as that would get in the way of using a reconciliation package for 2018 to take on tax reform.

“We want to be urgent,” said Republican Study Committee Chair Mark Walker (R-NC), who ultimately supported last week’s bill after drawing some concessions. “This is something the American people — we have to get this burden of Obamacare off their backs. So ultimately we’re not willing to hang it up. We’ve got to keep fighting.”

The White House signaled last week that President Trump viewed Friday’s vote as a take-it-or-leave-it deal and that he wanted to move on to tax reform.

“I think if we called the President today and said we had the votes, I think he would be back on board,” said Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC).