During an appearance on Bill Bennett’s Morning in America radio show on Wednesday, House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) admitted that the GOP won’t rally around one single, unified alternative to the Affordable Care Act. Instead, Republicans will vote on a variety of conservative health care proposals that share “common themes” — a far cry from the comprehensive Obamacare replacement plan that GOP leadership has been promising for months.
Republicans have been under increasing pressure to supplement their never-ending effort to fully repeal the ACA with an actual plan to replace the health law. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) both implicated in recent months that such legislation was forthcoming. “It’s one of the big issues for conversation in terms of our agenda for this year, and I think you’ll see Republicans come forward with a plan to replace Obamacare,” said Boehner several weeks before a House Republican retreat in January. “A plan that will actually reduce costs for the American people and make health insurance more accessible.”
Cantor put it even more bluntly in a presentation to House Republicans later that month. “This year, we will rally around an alternative to Obamacare and pass it on the floor of the House,” he declared. When asked for an update on the impending legislation in late February, Cantor replied that Republicans were continuing “to work to finalize our Obamacare replacement plan.”
But Ryan had a very different take on Wednesday morning when Bennett asked about a potential replacement bill:
RYAN: There are a lot of folks and many of us are working on various alternatives. There are good conservatives who just have various different ways of putting an alternative out there. So what I look at is, it’s not just one singular alternative that we have right now, it’s five or six, but in all of those alternatives there are a lot of common policies and themes and what you’ll see the House doing is passing individual reforms — you know one a week — on these common themes, these common policies we agree to, because we’re not going to say, look here is our big, you know, Republican version of Obamacare, here is what we should have done in the first place and we’ll do it step-by-step and then if you want to look at what a comprehensive alternative looks like, there are a lot of people who are offering those visions.
As New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait pointed out last month, the Republican leadership’s promise to offer a big Obamacare replacement bill has become increasingly vague and hazy. Ryan’s comments today appear to confirm Chait’s warning that Americans shouldn’t expect a comprehensive GOP health care plan anytime soon.
Recent experience provides a clue as to what the various piecemeal alternatives and conservative reform proposals that Ryan alluded to in the interview will look like. In January, a trio of Senate Republicans introduced one potential Obamacare alternative that would dismantle many of the health law’s core consumer protections while simultaneously reducing the amount of financial assistance available to consumers trying to buy health insurance. It would also make millions of workers pay more for their employer-sponsored coverage and, by one of the bill’s own author’s admission, likely raise costs for the sickest and elderly Americans.