Republicans Want to Keep at It on Health Care Overhaul

Conservatives still aim to use current fiscal year reconciliation bill

New Jersey Rep. Tom MacArthur thinks there is room for Republican conservatives and moderates to work together on health care. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
New Jersey Rep. Tom MacArthur thinks there is room for Republican conservatives and moderates to work together on health care. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted March 29, 2017 at 4:10pm

In a sign of the renewed Republican optimism surrounding a health care overhaul, several House GOP members say they still want to use the budget reconciliation process for the current fiscal year to pass legislation, effectively providing themselves with less than two months to get a deal.

Leadership has yet to make any concrete decisions on the path forward for health care after pulling a bill last week that would have partially repealed and replaced the 2010 health care law.

“Yes, absolutely,” Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker said when asked if the fiscal 2017 reconciliation process was still the plan for moving forward on the health care overhaul.

Texas Rep. Bill Flores, a former RSC chairman, agreed that the GOP should stick to its plan to use the fiscal 2017 reconciliation process for advancing health care legislation and then write fiscal 2018 reconciliation instructions for a restructuring of the tax code.

“The deadline is whenever the House and Senate come together on [the] FY 18 budget,” Flores said of when the health care bill would have to be completed, if moving through the fiscal 2017 reconciliation process.

“That’s theoretically second half of May, so we’ve got between now and then,” he said, adding, “We can actually control that some if we need to.”

During the past few weeks of negotiations, House Republicans disagreed on what provisions would be allowed under the Senate’s reconciliation rules. But the advantage of using reconciliation is the ability to pass legislation in the Senate with a simple majority.

Democrats have not signaled any interest in helping Republicans repeal the 2010 health care law, so the budget process is the GOP’s only shot at repeal.

Speaking after the RSC’s weekly meeting Wednesday, Walker said the GOP has had a “productive week” and the effort to revive the health care effort is “headed in a right direction.”

The North Carolina Republican said last week’s pulled legislation remains the framework and talks have involved changing that bill.

Moving up the timeframe for rolling back the current law’s Medicaid expansion is “not part of those discussions,” he said, noting that “January 2020 looks like it’s going to stay.”

That’s when the GOP-led legislation proposed freezing Medicaid expansion enrollment.

The Republican Study Committee’s leaders were prepared to vote “yes” on the bill before it was pulled, as were most of its members, who account for roughly two-thirds of House Republicans. 

Going forward, the RSC “can be helpful to bring ideas and also to bring the votes,” Flores said.

The group could be used to broker peace between members of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus and the centrist Tuesday Group, both of whom provided enough opposition to sink the bill last week. 

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows had been trying to arrange a meeting between his caucus and the Tuesday Group on health care but on Wednesday, the North Carolina Republican said no meeting had been scheduled and he didn’t anticipate one would be.

While Meadows declined to state the reason for not getting together, it’s likely many Tuesday Group members don’t see much ground for compromise. Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent, a group co-chairman, said Tuesday any overhaul effort needed to evolve from the center out and be bipartisan.

However, individual talks may occur. New Jersey Rep. Tom MacArthur, another Tuesday Group co-chairman, expressed openness to discussions with the Freedom Caucus, saying he harbors no resentment toward the group.

Like Walker and Flores, Meadows sees the current fiscal year’s reconciliation process as the best vehicle for overhauling the health insurance system. 

“It’s partly because I think we need to get it done,” he said. “And it’s spring. And what happens? Hope springs eternal.”