POLITICS: PennAve

Here's why House Republicans' Obamacare replacement was just pushed back

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Politics,Congress,Obamacare,John Boehner,Health Care,2014 Elections,David M. Drucker,Campaigns,PennAve,Eric Cantor,Dave Brat

This was to be the month Rep. Eric Cantor kicked off a three-state bus tour to showcase House Republicans' election year agenda, with a focus on their plans for replacing Obamacare.

But with the Virginian stepping down as House majority leader on July 30 in the wake of his defeat in a June GOP primary, the bus tour is off, as is any chance House Republicans will move on an alternative to the Affordable Care Act before Congress leaves town at month's end for a five-week summer break.

Offering comprehensive legislation to overhaul Obamacare, and voting on it before Congress adjourned for the August recess, was always going to be challenging for House Republicans.

They have struggled to settle on a fiscally and politically palatable plan that could attract 218 GOP votes (no Democrats were likely to support it) since announcing their intention to propose an Obamacare alternative during their winter policy retreat in Cambridge, Md.

But Cantor’s ouster has killed the effort — at least until September, multiple Republican sources confirmed Tuesday.

In addition, whatever House Republicans do in regard to health care in the fall, putting an actual bill on the floor for a vote is almost certainly off the table, sources say. However, they could still produce a set of broad policy principles to campaign on in November as a part of a larger election agenda they are likely to unveil after Labor Day. "It has to happen, but it's going to be tough," a House Republican told the Washington Examiner.

The leadership shuffle caused by Cantor’s departure is being cited as another reason health care is being punted to the fall.

As House majority whip, Kevin McCarthy of California led a working group of members who were developing an Obamacare alternative. As Republican Study Committee chairman, Steve Scalise of Louisiana pushed to secure a floor vote for an RSC-sponsored bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

But both McCarthy and Scalise, the incoming majority leader and majority whip, respectively, are spending July preparing to assume their new leadership roles. That includes hiring staff that would play a key role in developing health care policy and interacting with members on an issue like this.

As a result, neither currently has the bandwidth for the politically delicate task of assembling a consensus on health care. And with just 16 legislative days until the August recess and a full legislative agenda to process, including aspects of their midterm agenda on jobs and the economy, House Republicans have little space available to debate an Obamacare alternative that was far from written as of June 10, the day Cantor lost his primary to economics professor Dave Brat.

The House Republican explained that Cantor had the authority to make things happen, and that it’s going to take time for the conference to compensate for his absence from the leadership team. "Kevin has to take the time to get his sea legs in this new role," this member said.

Health care was a particular project of Cantor’s. He was the one that announced during the winter policy retreat, that he intended to bring a comprehensive Obamacare alternative to the floor for a vote before the August recess. Doing so fit with his strategy to forge a better connection between Republicans and middle-class voters.

Cantor's bus tour, scheduled to make stops in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia in the coming days and focus on a range of issues, including health care, was a key part the outgoing majority leader's plan to execute that strategy and position House Republicans to pick up seats in the midterm elections. Top House committee chairmen were to join Cantor on the bus tour.

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