House Speaker Paul Ryan made clear to reporters Thursday that a Republican plan to repeal and replace the Obama health law is still not in final form, as the top Republican in Congress said he did not envision votes on the matter in the full House until spring.
“We want to be moving our Obamacare legislation by the end of the first quarter,” Ryan said at his weekly Capitol Hill news conference, as he again made clear the need to act.
“Our job is to repair the American health care system,” the Speaker said.
There had long been talk of much swifter action this year, using the process known as budget reconciliation, which does not allow for filibusters in the Senate, but the GOP is still trying to forge the final details of legislation to replace parts of the Obama health law, before selling it to their rank and file.
“The model is the plan we ran on last year,” said Ryan, though nothing from the GOP has yet been assembled into final legislative text; there also has been no public budget review of any Republican plans by the Congressional Budget Office.
The tactical choices are also in flux.
“I favor smaller bills over bigger bills,” said Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), a key player who argues the GOP should not develop its own mammoth health care bill to replace the 2,700 page version of Obamacare.
“Again, we’re on a rescue mission; let’s fix some things that we can fix,” Burgess added at a health care forum this week run by the American Enterprise Institute.
As one goes around the Capitol interviewing Republican lawmakers, it is obvious they are more than ready for action – but most of them are just waiting for their leadership to deliver a plan.
“If all we do is repeal the damage Obama did, it only takes us back to a screwed up system,” said Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA).
“We didn’t get here because Obamacare was a rousing success,” said Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA). “We got here because Obamacare was such a rousing failure.”
One big problem is in the Senate, where 60 votes will likely be needed for some major structural changes to the health care system – and the only way that can happen is with votes from Democrats.
“I want to see what we’re going to be able to get through the Senate,” said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA). “Ultimately, whatever gets through the Senate gets to the President’s desk.”
For those voters who had envisioned a swift move to repeal the Obama health law, followed by fast approval of a new plan, the lack of action from the Congress has been somewhat frustrating, and we’re seeing some of that bubble up on social media.
Democrats were also doing their best to keep some fires burning under the feet of GOP lawmakers, trying to raise doubts about the changes that Republicans might make.