Republicans and Democrats huddled on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning to chart their paths forward on a political debate that has quickly consumed the new Congress: Repealing Obamacare.
President Barack Obama and Republican Vice President-elect Mike Pence visited with lawmakers from their respective parties in dueling meetings on Day Two of the new Congress, as the GOP is taking swift action to dismantle the President’s signature healthcare reform law.
Obama laid out the benefits of the Affordable Care Act in his meeting with Democrats, according to Rep. Maxine Waters, and argued that the country largely likes the law and that he has received countless letters thanking him for Obamacare.
Another lawmaker in the room said the mood among Democrats is “fired up.”
“In two weeks I will no longer be a politician, but I’ll still be a citizen. I envy you so much right now, because I would love to be on the field,” Obama said, according to the member.
Democrats are struggling to figure out how best to defend the controversial ACA, while pressuring Republicans to hold off on rolling back the law. Meanwhile, the GOP — which will soon control the House, the Senate and the White House — have the massive task of figuring out just how to replace what they repeal.
Republican members leaving the meeting with Pence said the gathering felt like a “pep rally” but that there were not many policy details discussed. According to GOP Rep. Chris Collins, the party is eyeing the goal of crafting a replacement proposal in six months.
Some lawmakers on Tuesday questioned the wisdom of planning clashing meetings, each designed to advance a partisan agenda.
“Any type of a meeting that we have that’s not bipartisan is not in the proper scheme of things of starting out the new year,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, the moderate Democrat from West Virginia.
“It’s just not a good situation for us to be in. So if Mr. Pence is coming up here only to speak to Republicans and President Obama’s coming here only to speak to Democrats, I would be concerned about that. Because I don’t know how you change anything — how do you change anything unless we all come together?”
Republicans have long vowed to get rid of Obamacare, voting on dozens of measures that would repeal the law. Those attempts were largely theatre; there was never a scenario in which Obama himself would approve the repeal of his own landmark legislative accomplishment.
But President-elect Donald Trump made getting rid of the law a key element of his campaign strategy. He said on Twitter Tuesday that Obamacare provided “lousy healthcare.” With Trump headed for the Oval Office, and Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, the prospects for a successful repeal now appear more realistic.
GOP lawmakers have signaled that discarding the law remains an urgent priority, welcoming Pence Wednesday to rally House Republicans behind a repeal plan. On Tuesday, Senate Republicans took their first steps toward repealing Obamacare, filing a budget resolution reversing key elements of the law.
There remain divisions, however, on which precise elements of the law to scrap, and how to replace Obamacare with a law that doesn’t strip Americans of their health insurance.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, wrote in an op-ed Tuesday that lawmakers shouldn’t vote on repealing Obamacare until a replacement plan was developed.
“If Congress fails to vote on a replacement at the same time as repeal, the repealers risk assuming the blame for the continued unraveling of Obamacare. For mark my words, Obamacare will continue to unravel and wreak havoc for years to come,” he wrote.
And Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, who’s been tapped to serve as his senior counselor at the White House, said Tuesday that passing repeal and replacement measures simultaneously would be “the ideal situation.”
“We don’t want anyone who currently has insurance to not have insurance,” Conway said on MSNBC, adding there “are some pieces of merit in the current plan.”