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The GOP’s Obamacare repeal effort is in serious trouble

Republicans may not actually have the votes.

CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Republicans in Congress are hoping to make a big political statement this month by rushing to repeal Obamacare.

Considering that Republicans are about to control the White House and two chambers of Congress, that legislative goal may seem like it’s firmly within reach. But the GOP’s repeal effort is actually in serious trouble.

Republicans’ Obamacare strategy — known as “repeal and delay” — is losing support from several moderate lawmakers who don’t want to move forward with repeal before the party has landed on a replacement plan. If they hold out, there’s no way Obamacare repeal can move forward.

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On Monday evening, five GOP senators introduced a measure that would essentially slow down the repeal effort working its way through Congress.

Republican leaders are trying to repeal Obamacare by passing a budget bill that includes provisions to dismantle key parts of the health care law. This type of measure only requires a simple majority in the Senate to advance, allowing Republicans to sidestep a Democratic filibuster effort.

But in order for this to work, nearly every Republican needs to be on board with the budget bill. Assuming that Senate Democrats remain united against Obamacare repeal, Republicans can only afford to lose the support of two senators or the measure won’t be able to advance.

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Portman, Collins, Cassidy, and Murkowski haven’t come out and said they will definitely vote against the budget legislation unless their amendment is approved. But the growing dissent within the Senate illustrates that Republicans are on shaky ground when it comes to Obamacare repeal.

GOP leaders are attempting to unite their party behind “repeal and delay” because they need more time to figure out what to do next. Republicans have yet to agree on a real health care reform plan to take Obamacare’s place. So they want to make a political statement now and work through the policy details later.

But there’s broad consensus that “repeal and delay” would wreak havoc on the insurance industry. Major lobbying groups like the American Medical Association, Republican governors whose states are benefiting from Obamacare, and prominent conservative think tanks have all come out against this approach, saying it’s too risky and threatens to jeopardize too many Americans’ health insurance.

President-elect Donald Trump has also come out against “repeal and delay.” During a little-noticed 60 Minutes interview in November, Trump said that repealing and replacing Obamacare needs to happen simultaneously.

“We’re not going to have, like, a two-day period and we’re not going to have a two-year period where there’s nothing. It will be repealed and replaced,” Trump said in that interview.

Now, the group of senators coming out against the budget bill are echoing this concept.

“As President-elect Trump has stated, repeal and replace should take place simultaneously, and this amendment will give the incoming administration more time to outline its priorities,” Corker said in a statement.

The Senate is poised to vote on the budget resolution this week.