Hill GOP Split on How to Roll Back Obamacare

WASHINGTON (CNN) — On the day that President-elect Donald Trump picked a major Obamacare critic to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, congressional Republicans agree they want to repeal and replace the health care law, but they are split on how quickly it can happen.

The No. 2 House Republican leader said he believes the GOP-led Congress can move ahead early in 2017 to repeal Obamacare without a plan ready for a new system to take its place.

“I don’t think you have to wait,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters in a session in his Capitol office on Tuesday.

But the powerful Senate Republican who will chair one of the two main panels rewriting the law cautioned against rushing things.

“We need to make sure that we do no harm, make sure that we don’t make the mistakes that the Democrats made when they passed Obamacare — which was to go too far, too fast. The goal is to get it right,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, a deal-making Republican, declining questions about specific timetables.

“I’m not sure how fast we can do it. It should begin immediately but anything this complex affecting so many people will take a good while to implement,” Alexander said.

Trump, in his first post-election interview, said he wanted to roll back President Barack Obama’s signature health care law and create a new program “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 It will be repealed and replaced and we’ll know. And it will be great health care for much less money,” Trump said on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

Alexander noted Trump’s time line of doing both at the same time on Tuesday, saying that “means to me that we need to figure out how to replace it before we repeal it. And I think we can do that.”

Earlier on Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan told a Wisconsin radio host that getting rid of Obamacare was “really high up and early on the agenda.”

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell wouldn’t specify any date for moving a repeal of the health care statute, but told reporters he planned to begin the process in early 2017.

McCarthy argued that rolling back the law and creating a transition period for creating a new program will force Democrats to come to the table and work on a bipartisan replacement bill.

“If it is repealed then you’ve got an ability to get the right policy and why wouldn’t you want to interject if that’s the direction it’s going. I would hope people wouldn’t want to play politics,” the California Republican said.

But House Minority Whip, Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, released a statement saying he was “deeply concerned” about McCarthy moving ahead with a plan to repeal the law with no strategy to address those who could lose coverage.

“Democrats will strongly oppose these efforts, and we will continue working to ensure that affordable health coverage is accessible to all Americans,” Hoyer said.

McCarthy, like other GOP leaders, declined to give a detailed time line on when the House will vote to repeal Obamacare. But said he expected to use a budget procedure called “reconciliation” as a vehicle for the issue because that allows the passage of the legislation in the Senate with a simple majority, making it harder for Democrats to stymie the effort.

Trump recently told The Wall Street Journal that he is considering keeping parts of the law after meeting with Obama. He nominated a longtime opponent, and physician, Georgia Rep. Tom Price, to serve as the Secretary of Health and Human Services, who has worked for years on legislation to wipe away the current system and instead provide tax credits for individuals to purchase coverage in private plans.

Trump ally Sen. David Perdue, R-Georgia, told reporters he has talked to Democrats about an effort to overhaul Obamacare. He acknowledged that Democrats may be open to some changes, but not a full replacement plan written by Republicans.

“That’s right. It’s a partial repeal first of all. It’s not a total repeal. Let’s get that out of the way. It’s a partial repeal and I think there are pieces of it that have to stay in place for a while and that’s what we’re going to be working on,” he said while refusing to elaborate on which parts might stay in place.

McCarthy praised Price, but sidestepped a question about using Price’s proposed legislation as the vehicle for putting a new structure in place. He said he planned to send a letter to governors and insurance companies to gather input on how to create a new system. He said the House would start by looking at the plan outlined in the GOP’s “Better Way” agenda, which Price helped craft.