The Republican Study Committee, chaired by Scalise, is drafting legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
House Republicans have held 40 votes to repeal Obamacare, but their promise to come up with legislation to replace it with something else has been far more elusive. That may be about to change.
The 173-member strong Republican Study Committee is on track to roll out legislation this fall that would replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act with a comprehensive alternative, Chairman Steve Scalise told CQ Roll Call on Thursday.
Though it wouldn’t be the first Obamacare repeal-and-replace proposal floated by individual GOP lawmakers in either chamber of Congress, the RSC bill is one that could at least gain traction on the House floor, given the conservative group’s size and influence.
It would, however, have to pass muster with House Republican leaders, who have not yet been formally acquainted with the legislative text, according to Scalise. It would also likely need the blessing of outside advocacy groups such as Heritage Action for America and the Club for Growth, which could make or break the bill’s chances of passage.
The Louisiana Republican said the plan would include protections for people with pre-existing conditions — one of the main benefits of Obamacare.
“We address that to make sure that people with pre-existing conditions cannot be discriminated against,” he said. But, he promised the bill would not “put in place mandates that increase the costs of health care and push people out of the insurance that they like,” Scalise said.
“We want to make sure that, when it’s rolled out, that people who have an interest in health care, from families to small and large business groups, all understand just what the difference is between our bill and the president’s health care law,” Scalise said, demurring on whether the RSC would need outside stakeholders’ approval in order to move forward with the bill’s introduction. “There are very dramatic differences, not just in the policy but in the cost.”
He declined to detail specifics — and those specifics have tripped up GOP efforts in the past. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s effort earlier this year to shift some Obamacare funding into state high-risk pools for people with pre-existing conditions tanked after a conservative backlash. Indeed, some conservatives and outside groups simply want to leave the issue up to the states and are far more interested in “repeal” than “replace.”
The failure of the GOP to coalesce around an alternative — and the failure of the Cantor bill — has become one of White House Press Secretary Jay Carney’s favorite talking points.
Scalise said he expects his party leaders to “have a real interest” in the RSC proposal, given that the group has been “working with very respected leaders in health care in the Republican conference.”
The fall timetable for the “replace” bill is included in the RSC’s internal quarterly progress report obtained by CQ Roll Call. Scalise wrote on July 31 that a replacement “with patient-centered reforms that lower costs without the taxes and mandates in the President’s law” was “slated for introduction when we return this fall.”
“The RSC has been working for a long time on alternatives to Obamacare,” Scalise said in response to CQ Roll Call inquiries about the memo. “We’ve obviously fought very hard to repeal the bill, to unravel different pieces on it that are falling on its own weight, anyway. But we’ve also been working to put together a true alternative that would lower market costs, and fix some real problems that existed before Obamacare that are made worse with it.”
Scalise said that the bill has not yet been completed, and he did not clarify when after Congress returns from the August recess it might be introduced.