Divided as ever, Republicans say they will recommit to Obamacare repeal

Speaker Ryan and President Trump said they aren’t done with a repeal of Obamacare.

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., joined by members of the GOP leadership, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 28, 2017. CREDIT: AP/J.Scott Applewhite
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., joined by members of the GOP leadership, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 28, 2017. CREDIT: AP/J.Scott Applewhite

President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) have publicly recommitted themselves to undoing Obamacare, days after they were forced to yank their original replacement plan in the face of bipartisan opposition. Members of the right-wing Freedom Caucus — whose influence over last week’s health care negotiations successfully pushed some relatively centrist Republicans into the “no” camp — is engaged in the process of creating a new proposal.

Shortly after canceling that vote on Friday, Ryan said Obamacare would be the law of the land for the “foreseeable future,” and President Trump said he would shift his focus to tax reform. But by Monday, Ryan was telling Republican donors that he would keep pushing for repeal. The following night, Trump told senators making a deal on health care would be “such an easy one,” and that there is “no doubt that that’s going to happen very quickly.”

But nothing has changed since Trumpcare 1.0 died on Friday. Freedom Caucus conservatives and moderate Republicans still disagree on the same issues they did a few days ago.

Last week, as Republican leaders sought to cobble together more Trumpcare votes, Freedom Caucus members demanded changes that would have pushed the bill further to the right, such as gutting the essential health benefits provision of Obamacare, which provided services such as maternity care, emergency room visits, and substance abuse treatment. Caucus members also wanted to give states the option to impose work requirements on some Medicaid recipients.

Freedom Caucus Republicans won those additions. But they didn’t get two other changes they were looking for: the elimination of a provision mandating insurers cover people with preexisting conditions, and an end to the measure allowing parents to keep children on their plan until age 26. In the meantime, some moderate Republicans withdrew their support.

This week, some Freedom Caucus members vowed to keep working on an Obamacare replacement.

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), a Freedom Caucus member, told CNN on Tuesday, “I think we have plenty of time. We can fix this.”

Another Freedom Caucus member, Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX), who opposed Trumpcare, said an all-day GOP conference would help House Republicans get back on track.

But even within the Freedom Caucus, Republicans are divided, Politico reported. Some members have suggested forcing a floor vote that would repeal but not replace Obamacare. Others say they would rather work on finding agreement with moderate Republicans.

In the meantime, the Trump administration has the ability to sabotage some aspects of Obamacare without the help of Congress. There are a number of administrative levers Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price can pull to ensure the program works much less effectively.

On Wednesday, reporters asked Price if he would enforce Obama administration policies on Obamacare outreach. Price refused to give a yes or no answer. However, his department’s website speaks for itself: It has a page that lists all of the Trump administration’s actions to weaken Obamacare, and paints an unflattering picture of the law.

“But with skyrocketing premiums and narrowing choices, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has done damage to this market and created great burdens for many Americans,” the site reads.