Republicans who have been promising their constituents for years that they’d repeal President Barack Obama’s sweeping health care plan are now offering a less drastic approach: Repair it.
The modification, aired repeatedly this week on Capitol Hill, comes as Republicans find themselves unable to reach a consensus on how to replace the 2010 law that not only has extended health care to 20 million Americans but also includes provisions that Republicans want to keep, such as keeping young adults on their parent’s health care plans.
The word “repair” emerged as Republicans wrestled with the complexities of the law, with Senate Health committee chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. likening the situation to a bridge that is collapsing.
Polls suggest the health care law has never been more popular
“We can close the old bridge, but in the meantime, we repair it,” he said this week. “No one is talking about repealing anything until there is a concrete practical alternative to offer Americans in its place.”
One of his counterparts in the House told reporters that lawmakers “are going to fix things, we’re going to repair things.
“There are things we can build on and repair; there are things we can completely repeal,” House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Greg Walden said.
Polls suggest the law has never been more popular, and Bloomberg reported this week that the more temperate language was suggested to the party by Republican word maven and pollster Frank Luntz. He told Bloomberg that repair “is a less partisan but no less action-oriented phrase that Americans overwhelmingly embrace.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi this week taunted the Republicans over their semantics. “They’ve had seven years to come up with it, and so far all we hear are vocabulary changes and the rest,” she told reporters on Thursday. “Hopefully we can find some common ground to go forward.”
But some conservatives most decidedly do not embrace what they see as a retreat, and a backlash has some Republicans pushing away from the word.
We can close the old bridge, but in the meantime, we repair it. No one is talking about repealing anything until there is a concrete practical alternative to offer Americans in its place.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee
House Speaker Paul Ryan used “repair” while speaking at a press conference at a Republican retreat last month, but sought this week to distance himself from any suggestion that the party is softening its approach.
“To repair the American health care system you have to repeal and replace this law,” Ryan told Fox & Friends on Thursday, saying there was “miscommunication” over the use of the word.
His office on Friday shot out an email noting that several House committees had held hearings “to discuss fixing our health care system by way of repealing and replacing Obamacare.”
Senate Finance Committee chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, who was quoted in the Washington Post saying he “could stand either” repealing or repairing the law, tried to clarify Friday that he’s in the repeal camp.
We need to make decisions.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., urging colleagues to quickly repeal the Affordable Care Act
“One thing remains clear: Republicans are committed to repealing and replacing the law,” Hatch’s office said in an email that did not include the word “repair.”
Conservatives have already voiced worries that the drive to dismantle the law is losing momentum as lawmakers grapple with finding a way to keep their campaign promise while not leaving millions of Americans without access to health care.
That prompted two conservative lawmakers this week to urge their colleagues to take up legislation that both chambers passed in 2015: It would gut significant parts of the law and would defund Planned Parenthood. That legislation, which includes no replacement plan, was vetoed by Obama.
“There’s no reason we should put anything less on President (Donald) Trump’s desk than we put on President Obama’s now that we know it will be signed into law,” said Reps. Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Jim Jordan of Ohio.
Meadows said his call for quick action on the 2015 legislation was aimed at prodding lawmakers to act.
“We need to make decisions,” he said. “This does not improve with a 60-day or 90-day decision window.”
The 2015 law would repeal the requirement that individuals purchase insurance or pay a fine. Meadows said once repeal was begun, it could get Democrats to the table.
“Until they understand that we are serious about repealing Democrats are not going to debate in earnest about a replacement,” Meadows said.
He dismissed the idea of repair, calling the law “unrepairable. We need to repeal it, we need to replace it.”
Their call for a vote drew applause from the tea-party aligned group Freedom Works, which said it worries that the use of the word “repair” signals more softening.
“As weak Republicans’ appetites for keeping their campaign promises to repeal ObamaCare begin to wilt, Reps. Meadows and Jordan are calling their bluff,” said Freedom Works chief executive officer Adam Brandon, adding that a bill passed when Obama was president “should be the bare minimum members of Congress should pass under President Donald Trump.”