POLITICS: PennAve

House Republicans working on Obamacare alternative navigate challenges

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Progress toward a consensus Obamacare alternative remains slow for House Republicans, as the working group charged with drafting the proposal addresses myriad political and policy challenges.

The House Obamacare Accountability Project, or HOAP, working group of about 35 GOP members, has written a “draft” proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, according to one House Republican familiar with the effort. But the group has not shared the draft with their colleagues and is engaged in an internal debate over whether their goal should be to simply introduce legislation, or also hold floor votes.

The distinction is important.

Rank-and-file Republicans are more likely to haggle over policy and face pressure from conservative groups if they have to vote on the proposal. Achieving consensus likely would be easier if the legislation is treated as a broad agenda to be tackled after the midterm elections. Regardless of what the group and House GOP leaders decide, the proposal is likely to take the form of multiple bills that together would comprise a comprehensive Obamacare alternative.

The HOAP group wants its proposal ready to circulate among members by July so that some sort of action can be taken before the August recess, the House Republican told the Washington Examiner on Thursday. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. -- who with House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is directing HOAP's deliberations -- was hesitant to commit to a schedule but said the group is making progress.

“We’re still working on it,” said McMorris Rodgers, the House Republican Conference chairwoman. “I hesitate to put a timeframe on it. It is our goal to have something soon to be able to present to the members.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., is leading the overall effort to craft his caucus' Obamacare alternative. The chairmen of the key policy committees also are involved. In addition to developing conservative health care reforms to replace the Affordable Care Act, the HOAP group also is the hub for designing ways to provide legislative oversight of the law, and some of those measures have advanced through the House in recent weeks.

Congressional Republicans have plenty of ideas for how to replace Obamacare, and they are generally eager to vote on something.

The Republican Study Committee, a caucus of House conservatives, has introduced legislation that has 128 cosponsors; Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., a physician, has written a plan; and a trio of GOP senators recently unveiled their own proposal. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., are collaborating on yet another. McMorris Rodgers said HOAP is scouring all of them for ideas.

The challenge for House Republicans is finding a plan that can garner 218 GOP votes, as few Democrats, if any, are likely to support the repeal and replacement of Obamacare. There are additional hurdles.

House Republicans need to craft legislation that doesn’t undermine what have been very successful attacks on Obamacare. For instance, new Obamacare regulations have forced insurers to cancel coverage that doesn’t meet the new minimum standards, which enraged many voters. But Republicans would have a harder time raising the issue in the upcoming campaign if their Obamacare alternative did the same thing.

Secondarily, there are many House Republicans who are politically wedded to the position of repeal first, and replace second, so any package of bills that appeared to incrementally dismantle the law might be rejected. Logistically, this could be problematic. The more Obamacare is implemented and supplants the old health care system, the harder it becomes to repeal the law and start from scratch.

Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee who was intimately involved in drafting the RSC’s health care alternative, downplayed the roadblocks. He sounded optimistic that House Republicans will act on an Obamacare alternative before Capitol Hill goes dark in August.

“We need to get behind a comprehensive bill,” Scalise said. “We’re not talking about going back to the status quo.”

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