by Sahil Kapur
House Republicans voiced frustrations Tuesday about slow-moving efforts to unwind Obamacare, urging their leaders to pick up the pace on a top campaign promise.
“Let’s get rid of it,” Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio told reporters at a forum for House conservatives. “That’s what we told the voters we’d do.”
He wasn’t alone.
“I, too, am frustrated with the pace,” said Representative Scott Perry of Pennsylvania. “America needs to know what we stand for. We should vote on something.”
“We should get a plan together that we all, at least we can vote on and decide where we have the votes and where we don’t and where we need to do some work and what policies we can agree upon. And I think the failure to do that over the last four years has caught us somewhat flat-footed,” Perry said.
The frustrations reflect the dilemma facing Republican leaders caught between years-long promises to smash the Affordable Care Act and the political reality of upending the health care system in a way that could cause millions of Americans to lose their health insurance.
Party members emerged from a closed-door retreat in Philadelphia last week frustrated at the lack of progress in uniting around a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Numerous health-care alternatives have been offered by Republicans, but none have won consensus in the party. GOP leaders and committee chairmen have yet to get behind a legislative alternative, although House Speaker Paul Ryan has put forward a series of broad ideas in a blueprint released last year, including refundable tax credits and high-risk pools.
Even so, Representative Raul Labrador of Idaho offered a terse response when asked Monday whether any progress had been made in the health-care meeting at the retreat.
“No,” he said.
“There are a lot of good ideas,” he continued. “We just need to get the committees to do their work.”
Perry suggested Republicans were too complacent ahead of the election because they didn’t expect to win full control of White House and Congress.
“Many here in Washington, D.C., didn’t think there was going to be a Republican-controlled House, Senate and executive branch and now it’s happened and we’re scurrying around and that’s unfortunate,” he said. “Because I think the time was there and we should have stood for something. And that puts us behind right now and gives some advantage to the other arguments.”
On Tuesday, Labrador said it’s “frustrating” that many Republicans are privately calling for a more government-centered approach than the party has been promising publicly.
“I’m hearing a lot of members say that they want Obamacare-light. And that’s not what we promised the American people,” Labrador said. “I’m very concerned about the things I’m hearing in the conference because they’re different than the things I’ve heard over the last six years.”
The budget resolution adopted by Congress earlier this month set a Jan. 27 deadline for the budget committees to receive and act on recommendations for a repeal bill. It came and went without legislation, but Republicans have noted that there’s no penalty for missing the deadline.
Ryan said to expect progress soon on health care.
“First, our committees are set to begin holding legislative hearings on bills to deliver relief for Americans struggling under Obamacare,” Ryan told reporters Tuesday. “This is the next step in a step-by-step approach to repealing and replacing Obamacare with an affordable, patient-centered system.”
Labrador, Perry and Jordan agreed that any plan must fully repeal Obamacare — taxes, subsidies, mandates and regulations.
“Heck yes — if it’s a full repeal,” Jordan said when asked if he’d back a repeal without a replacement.
Labrador agreed, but added, “I’m not hearing a plan for full repeal.”
On the other end of the GOP spectrum, Representative Charlie Dent, who represents a swing district in Pennsylvania, said he’s concerned the more conservative Republicans will block a health-care replacement bill.
“I do worry that if we were to repeal large swaths of this thing without a replacement there will be those on the hard right who will denounce any replacement package as Obamacare-light,” Dent said last week at the retreat in Philadelphia. “So that’s a political dynamic that we have to consider.”
Meanwhile, Representative Mark Sanford of South Carolina noted the hard lesson that Democrats learned in 2009 and 2010 before they upended the system.
“As a political reality, people get really ginned up about health care,” he said.