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House Republicans Not Ready to Abandon Obamacare Repeal

Hope springs eternal in chamber that Senate GOP can still get something done

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy want the Senate to keep alive the effort to repeal the 2010 health care law. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy want the Senate to keep alive the effort to repeal the 2010 health care law. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)


House Republicans on Friday said they’re not planning to abandon their effort to repeal the 2010 health care law, but their current plan for how to achieve that goal is to simply hope the Senate gets its act together.

“We’ll continue to see if the Senate can realize what they did last night, wake up and change course,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters.

To those ready to declare the GOP repeal-and-replace effort dead, the California Republican offered this advice: “Never put a period where there should be a comma.”

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan was also not ready to throw in the towel and pinned his repeal hopes on the Senate pulling off a feat that’s eluded the chamber for weeks.

“I am disappointed and frustrated, but we should not give up,” the Wisconsin Republican said in a statement. “I encourage the Senate to continue working toward a real solution that keeps our promise.”

But Senate Republicans, after failing to pass a so-called skinny repeal amendment that would have eliminated only a handful of provisions from the 2010 health care law, appeared defeated and ready to give up on a partisan approach.

“Our only regret tonight is that we didn’t achieve what we had hoped to accomplish,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a floor speech early Friday morning after the skinny repeal effort was defeated, with three Republican senators joining Democrats in opposition. “I think the American people are going to regret that we couldn’t find a better way forward.  And as I said, we look forward to our colleagues on the other side suggesting what they have in mind.”

Some House Republicans say they’re not opposed to working with Democrats but that doesn’t appear realistic as the parties don’t appear to have any areas of agreement on health care.

“I don’t have a problem working with Democrats,” Rep. Tom Cole said, before adding, “I haven’t seen any proposals that I find very attractive.”

The Oklahoma Republican said there is nothing House Republicans can do at this point, given that they’ve already passed a bill. He said they remain open to going to conference if the Senate can eventually move something.

“This is a problem the Senate has to solve for itself,” Cole said. “We can wish them well, we can root for them, we can yell at them, but in the end we can’t do it for them.”

Both the partisan and bipartisan approaches to health care appear unlikely to yield quick results.

Senate Republicans are stuck, and Democrats have said they would work with the GOP on a health care fix only if they took repeal of the current law off the table. With House Republicans not ready to do that, there does not appear to be a path forward.  

Texas Rep. Randy Weber, noting that he has never seen this much partisan division and angst in Congress, said he doesn’t anticipate Democrats wanting to work with Republicans regardless.

“It’s to their political advantage for us to wallow around in the mess that they created, quite frankly,” the House Freedom Caucus member said.

To that point, several House Republicans, during a Friday morning conference meeting, voiced an interest in staying in session during August to continue working toward a solution on health care. Freedom Caucus member Dave Brat said some appeared to be afraid to go back home and face their constituents.

“Everyone in the room was just somber on, if we go back right now, if we go back home and we haven’t got this thing done — I mean, it’s going to be a tough August,” the Virginia Republican said.  

Brat said it won’t do House members any good to point the blame at the Senate because constituents don’t separate the chambers in their minds. “People just say, ‘It’s you. It’s you D.C. people [who] can’t get it done.’”

GOP Rep. Phil Roe said he expected similar backlash from his constituents in Tennessee.

“They’re looking at me, too,” he said. “I’m not looking forward to going home.”

Roe said his plan is to explain to his constituents that the Senate still had another chance to bring up a health care bill, despite McConnell vowing to move on to other issues.

“We say a lot of things when we’re tired,” Roe said of the Kentucky Republican’s remarks.

Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker said constituents should be upset at the Republicans for not delivering on health care but that won’t stop him from messaging on other issues.

“Yet at the same time, I’m not going to pretend it’s pie in the sky and that we’ve done our work and we’ve done our job,” the North Carolina Republican said.

In hoping that the Senate can still broker a deal, House Republicans acknowledged that they don’t have unlimited time.  

“You have to work it over August,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said. 

The North Carolina Republican said he was working with senators on two different approaches: a strategy advocated by GOP Sens. Ted Cruz and Rob Portman focusing on subsidies, stabilization funds and relief on entitlement mandates; or a plan giving states block grants that allows governors to be flexible.

“Those two trains are on parallel tracks,” Meadows said.

Despite McConnell saying he would move on from health care, Meadows said he hoped the Senate’s decision “is not fatal — it’s just a delay.”

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