The Republican plan to repeal Obamacare may be on the brink of collapse

It’s not a done deal yet.

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act rally outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
Supporters of the Affordable Care Act rally outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Dismantling Obamacare is at the top of Congress’ agenda. With a GOP-controlled Congress and an incoming president both eager to scrap health care reform, moving forward with Obamacare repeal this month may seem like a foregone conclusion. But that’s not necessarily the case.

A small handful of GOP senators are starting to express reservations about Congress’ current Obamacare repeal effort — raising questions about whether it will actually have enough support in the Senate.

Because Democrats are expected to present a united front against attacking the health law, Republicans can only afford to lose support from two senators in order to advance the measure being used to repeal Obamacare.

Rand Paul (R-KY), Bob Corker (R-TN), Tom Cotton (R-AR), and Susan Collins (R-ME) are all signaling a potential break from the rest of their party. Though it’s not yet clear whether these senators will cast a vote against Obamacare repeal, the growing unease in the Senate puts the GOP on shaky ground.

Working through a budget process known as “reconciliation” to sidestep a Democratic filibuster in the Senate, Republican lawmakers are trying to pass a resolution that will instruct several congressional committees to come up with legislation to repeal key parts of the health law by January 27.

Without a viable plan to replace Obamacare — a policy goal that the GOP has failed to deliver on for six years — Republican leaders are rallying behind a dubious tactic known as “repeal and delay.” They want to use the budget reconciliation bill to officially repeal Obamacare now, before figuring out what kind of new health care legislation to enact in its place. This strategy threatens to throw the insurance industry into chaos by creating widespread uncertainty among major insurers.

Even traditionally right-leaning players are worried that “repeal and delay,” which could jeopardize the coverage of at least 20 million people who gained insurance under Obamacare, is much too risky. Prominent libertarian think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute, lobbying groups like the American Medical Association, and leading conservative outlets like the Washington Examiner have all raised concerns that repealing Obamacare needs to wait until Congress has a real plan for what’s going to come next.

And a handful of Republican senators — particularly those representing states where large numbers of people have benefited from the reforms under Obamacare — appear to agree.

So far, Paul is the most forceful opponent of the GOP’s current budget resolution, arguing that his fellow conservative lawmakers should not support it because it will add too much to the national debt and because it doesn’t include an Obamacare replacement plan. “We need to think through how we do this, and it’s a huge mistake for Republicans if they do not vote for replacement on the same day as we vote for repeal,” Paul said this week.

Cotton, Corker, and Collins have been less definitive about whether they plan to withdraw their support from the resolution. But they have all expressed some doubts about rushing to repeal Obamacare before having a replacement plan ready to go, saying the GOP needs a different strategy.

“I don’t think we can repeal Obamacare and say we’re going to get the answer two years from now,” Cotton told MSNBC on Thursday.

“Repeal and replacement should take place simultaneously,” Corker told reporters on Friday morning.

Complicating matters further, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) indicated this week that the budget resolution will also include a provision to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood — another longstanding health policy goal that the Republican Party has struggled to get through Congress.

Inclusion of language targeting Planned Parenthood could be an issue for moderate GOP senators like Collins and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who have resisted efforts in the past to defund the women’s health organization.

Collins suggested on Thursday that she hasn’t decided how she’ll vote on the resolution, saying she’s going to “wait and see what happens.” But she added that she’s “not happy to hear the speaker wants to include defunding of Planned Parenthood, an extremely controversial issue, in the package.”

“Repeal and delay” is an incredibly unpopular policy among the American public. According to a poll released Friday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which has been tracking public opinion on Obamacare for years, 75 percent of Americans wants Congress to either leave the health law in place or wait to repeal it until they have a replacement law ready to go.

If the people who don’t want Congress to pursue “repeal and delay” decided to flood their representatives’ offices with calls urging them to oppose the current budget resolution, it’s possible that could influence some of the moderate lawmakers who are teetering on the edge.

Just earlier this week, House Republicans reversed course on a deeply unpopular plan to gut the independent Office of Congressional Ethics after being overwhelmed with calls from angry constituents.

Esther Yu Hsi Lee contributed to this report.