Republicans in Congress could feel pressure from some of the U.S. House’s most conservative lawmakers to replace President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare Affordable Care Act as quickly as they repeal it – and that’s on top of a fiscal fight brewing over the issue.
“Some of us have been bantering around. ... Do a repeal vote. Vote on a replacement the same day,” says U.S. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and chairman of the House Freedom Caucus.
It allows us to start narrowing the debate.
U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C.
The U.S. Senate began debate Wednesday on repeal, with no replacement in sight.
Waiting too long after repeal to offer up a replacement health care policy, as some leaders in Congress have suggested, would be kicking the can down the road, Meadows says.
“It doesn’t have to be that way,” Meadows said of repeal and replace votes on the same day. “But, there’s a lot of us who believe that, if indeed we have a plan, which Republicans have been saying they have a plan to replace it for four years. ... Let’s vote on something.”
Meadows leads the Freedom Caucus, a group of about 40 conservative lawmakers who often push Republican leaders in Congress further to the right on policy issues. Meadows and his Freedom Caucus colleagues have been known to take bold stances against House leadership and have, at times, taken their fights public to force compromise.
The group also could upset what some Republicans expected might be a smooth path to repeal the health care law as they weigh concerns about federal budget ramifications. Dismantling the Affordable Care Act, also called “Obamacare,” would eliminate some revenue sources. Meadows told reporters the Freedom Caucus will discuss on Monday whether its members would support a budget resolution that includes an Obamacare repeal but would potentially add trillions to the national debt.
The caucus met Thursday with U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., the lone Republican who voted against considering repeal on Wednesday. Paul argues that the fiscal implications have not been fully considered.
“Obviously the deficit and debt is a concern for any fiscal conservatives,” said Meadows. “Yet at the same time there are those who are making the argument that this particular budget, because it doesn’t have legislation that actually supports the numbers that are in there, will increase the deficit.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters Thursday that budget-balancing will be a top priority later this year. House members, he said, “realize that a more comprehensive, complete budget will be coming in the fall like it always does.”
On repealing the Affordable Care Act, the House Freedom Caucus soon will decide how far they want to take their fight over the timing of replacement legislation.
Several members, Meadows said Thursday, have been batting around the option of pushing for both a repeal vote and a replacement vote on the same day. As a group, they haven’t made a decision yet but plan to meet Monday to discuss Obamacare, he said.
Such a move could be a risk, he said. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle will scrutinize any replacement bill. That could mean some lawmakers quickly lose sight that a future replacement is still fundamentally reversing harmful existing policy, Meadows said.
“I think Americans are looking for answers,” Meadows said. “Even if we get criticized for the potential replacement that we have, those that are concerned that there won’t be anything will at least be able to say, ‘Well, there’s something.’
“It allows us to start narrowing the debate.”
Meadows says a quick replacement bill is necessary so that insured people aren’t left in a “vacuum” upon repeal.
“It’s not just policy. It’s people’s lives,” he said. “Both Democrats and Republicans get that. It’s important that as Republicans, when we look at dealing with that, that we understand the people part of it.”
Meadows and the Freedom Caucus have not yet endorsed a detailed replacement package.
There are several proposals, including Speaker Ryan’s “A Better Way” blueprint from last summer. That would allow companies to sell coverage across state lines, which supporters say would enhance competition and lower premium costs.
Meadows would not endorse that specific plan on Thursday, but said, “We have to show everyone is going to be able to maintain coverage, which they will.”