Are Senate Republicans getting ready to give up on replacing Obamacare with something of their own creation? As of this moment, the answer is starting to appear like yes. The Republican strategy on health care has been a moving target in the past several months, however, so anything could change.
In late 2016, simply “repealing” the Affordable Care Act was the goal but shortly after assuming the presidency, Donald Trump pushed his party toward including a replacement plan alongside repeal. The strategy changed again on March 24 after GOP’s health care bill was pulled in the House of Representatives before it went down in the face of attacks from multiple factions, as well as a devastating report from the Congressional Budget Office projecting that the Republicans’ American Health Care Act would increase the number of uninsured people by 23 million.
“We are going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future,” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said at the time.
Within a matter of days, however, Ryan and Trump officials were back at work trying to mend differences through amendments to the legislation. Ultimately, Republicans were able to unify and in early May, the House passed the measure by a close margin.
In the Senate, the GOP has once again been plagued by seemingly contradictory pressures. Conservative opponents of the Republicans’ legislation, crafted by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., want it to do more to remove regulations. Moderates like Susan Collins, R-Maine, have pushed back on the bill’s provisions to reduce Medicaid spending while also cutting taxes on investment income for wealthy Americans. The seemingly intractable differences are now provoking discussions among Washington Republicans that perhaps the best course of action is to abandon a “replace” effort in favor of reverting back to a simple “repeal” bill.
Congressional Republicans are beginning to contemplate the idea, according to Senate Republican aides not authorized to speak publicly about the situation. Thus far, however, McConnell and his top lieutenants are sticking to the dual-purpose legislation.
"We are going to stick with that path," McConnell said at a Friday event in Kentucky after he was asked about a tweet from Trump proposing to merely replace Obamacare. "Failure has to be possible or you can't have success."
On Monday, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway raised the possibility of a pared down repeal bill in an interview with Fox News.
“In terms of the procedure,” she said, “it could either be repealed and replaced at same time, or you could do what happened in the 2015 Senate bill, where every Republican senator who was there except for one voted, and they voted to immediately do away with the penalties and taxes under Obamacare, they dealt with Medicaid as well.”
The Trump surrogate also tweaked the GOP for being willing to completely repeal the Affordable Care Act previously during Barack Obama’s presidency but being much more cautious now that a Republican president can actually enable them to eliminate the law.
“The only thing that’s changed since their vote in 2015 to repeal Obamacare and now is that you have a Republican president willing to sign that into law,” Conway said. “This is a commitment that has been made to the American people and it can’t wait.”