By Erin Delmore
President Obama’s legacy is up for grabs. Congressional Republicans made clear, repealing his signature health care law is priority number one.
“We are going to keep our promises to end illegal immigration, build a wall, infrastructure bill, but the first order of business is to repeal and replace Obamacare,” said Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
On Congress’ first full day in session, leaders on both sides of the aisle teed up the fight to come: Pence rallied Republicans to repeal and replace. President Obama to Democrats: Hold the line.
“Republicans would create chaos in the public health care system because they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. They have no idea what to put in place of the Affordable care Act,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “We have a plan to replace it, have plenty of ideas to replace it.”
Pressed by reporters on what that would look like, Pence pointed to the November election speech by then-candidate Donald Trump.
“Our replacement plan includes Health Savings Accounts, a nationwide insurance market where you can purchase across state lines and letting states manage Medicaid dollars,” he said Nov. 1.
Those are among the most popular parts of the health care law, backed by a majority of Americans from both parties. According to a nationwide poll by the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation taken a week after the election, 85 percent of Americans — including 82 percent of Republicans — like that young people can stay on a parent’s insurance until age 26. Eight in 10 favor nixing out-of-pocket costs for preventive care and closing the Medicare prescription drug a “doughnut hole.” A majority like the health insurance exchanges where people and small businesses can shop around and the option states got to expand Medicaid and the part of the law that prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
Here’s what people don’t like: the individual mandate requiring nearly everyone have health insurance or pay a fine.
“Republicans will soon learn, that you can’t keep the good parts of the ACA and remove the rest of the law and still make it work,” Schumer said.
Congressman Frank Pallone of New Jersey said the debate isn’t ideological, but practical.
“What does this really mean to the average person? If you repeal this, what you’re going to do is you’re going to go back to days when you pay more out of pocket, you can’t get health insurance, your benefit package shrinks and you just have some skeletal plan or catastrophic plan that doesn’t cover anything. That’s the difference,” Pallone said.
Republicans cleared the first hurdle today in a narrow 51-48 vote, defying every Democrat and Republican crossover Rand Paul to begin debate on a 2017 budget. Now, what does that have to do with Obamacare? Republicans are setting the stage for repeal through a complicated parliamentary maneuver known as “budget reconciliation.” That’s not the way they usually pass laws — and it has some major drawbacks — but one big win: it’ll allow Republicans to get a bill to repeal Obamacare through the Senate with just 51 votes instead of the usual 60, eliminating threat of a Democratic filibuster. And with only 52 Republicans in the Senate, it’s “game on.”