Cantor loss makes House action on healthcare unlikely
The stunning Republican primary defeat last week of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has triggered upheaval in congressional GOP leadership and even further reduced the odds of the House taking up any significant healthcare legislation before the November elections.
Cantor will step down as majority leader at the end of July but stay in office until the end of the year. His defeat set off a fierce scramble among Republicans seeking his post, though it appears the current House whip, Kevin McCarthy of California, has the edge. The way the power struggle plays out could affect the leadership of key healthcare committees such as Ways and Means and Energy and Com- merce. “There is kind of the domino effect,” said Joseph Antos, a health policy expert at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
Even though Cantor took a hard line against the healthcare reform law, tea party conservatives accused him of not being sufficiently anti-Obamacare.
His victorious opponent, college professor David Brat, signed a pledge to repeal the law while Cantor had not. “The voters in Virginia were paying attention to candidates who take a stand against Obamacare,” said Heather Higgins, president of Independent Women’s Voice, a group promot- ing the pledge. “After tonight, every Republican incumbent will be paying attention as well.”
That uncompromising stance could make it difficult for House Republicans to agree on even changes that many favor. Some conservatives have been pushing for a vote on a proposal by Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) to expand health savings accounts, allow health plans to be sold across state lines and restrict medical malpractice suits. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), chair of the conservative Republican Study Committee who is now running for the House whip position, is a leading supporter of Roe’s proposal.
But other conservatives fear that moving forward with any replacement bill would give Democrats a fat political target heading into the elections, with Democrats able to argue that the GOP proposal would take away benefits people like.
“The tea party folks by and large don’t give a crap about replace,” said a Republican healthcare lobbyist who didn’t want to be named. “They just hate the law.”
Eric Cantor’s defeat has set off a scramble among Republicans seeking his post.