House panels prepare health care law repeal
WASHINGTON — Key House committees are set to take up legislation to repeal and begin replacing the Affordable Care Act next week, with Republican leaders intent on overcoming internal GOP debates to quickly deliver on a central campaign promise.
Those intraparty struggles were highlighted Thursday when a Republican senator joined Democrats in calling for more transparency in the legislation’s drafting and suggested that House leaders were keeping details under wraps to sideline conservatives.
“This is being presented as if it were a national secret, as if this were a plot to invade another country,” said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., as he stood outside a Capitol conference room where members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee met.
But elsewhere Thursday, GOP leaders expressed confidence that they were about to make good on a seven-yearold pledge to undo the ACA.
House Speaker Paul Ryan laid out a three-week timeline for the passage of health care legislation in a closeddoor morning meeting with fellow Republicans, according to numerous attendees.
The first steps involve parallel action next week by the House Ways and Means Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee, which are handling separate parts of the ACA overhaul. The following week, the House Budget Committee would move to combine the bills into a “reconciliation” package eligible for expedited Senate debate, with votes on the House floor expected the week after that.
“We are united, and we are determined to rescue people from this collapsing health care law and to keep our promise to the American people,” Ryan told reporters.
Although there is consensus on many elements of the health care legislation — expanding health savings accounts, giving states more flexibility to spend Medicaid funds and allowing insurance plans to be sold across state lines — major questions remain that have divided Republicans.
The most important involve how to handle the millions of Americans who were added to the Medicaid rolls as part of the ACA, and how to help millions more who are not covered through their employers purchase affordable insurance.
No legislative text has been released by Ryan’s office or the relevant committees. One part of the legislation, handled by the Energy and Commerce Committee, was made available to Republican members of that panel — but only to be inspected behind closed doors.
Although members and aides called that standard operating practice for a complex and sensitive bill, several conservatives balked at the secrecy.
“We’ve been told, ‘It’s take it or leave it. This is what you get,’” Paul said.
A core group of conservative lawmakers remains in favor of simply re-passing a 2015 ACA repeal bill that would roll back the Obama law’s key provisions over a two-year time frame and do little to replace them. Ryan moved to squelch that effort Thursday: According to two people in the room, he told lawmakers that President Donald Trump does not support passing an ACA repeal bill without accompanying replacement elements.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., criticized House Republicans on Thursday for keeping secret their plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. He speaks outside a Capitol Hill conference room.