Uh oh: Senate GOP moving towards delaying repeal of ObamaCare ... as Trump demands no delay

There are three approaches to repeal kicking around the caucus right now. One, the most popular, is “repeal and delay,” in which the GOP votes on repeal immediately but delays implementation until 2019 to give them time to come up with a replacement program. The second, favored by Rand Paul, is “repeal and replace ASAP.” Paul wants the party to vote on repeal immediately and to pass a bill instituting a new replacement system the same day. Minor problem: The GOP hasn’t agreed on a replacement system yet, and even if it had, you’d need 60 votes to get it through. That means eight Democratic votes, which seems highly unlikely at the moment.

The third option is “repeal and replace later.” That’s the same as Paul’s plan, except instead of voting immediately, the GOP would take its time. They wouldn’t vote to repeal until a replacement system was ready. How long would that take? Months? Years? Not clear yet, but what is increasingly clear is that there’s a small but critical chunk of the Senate Republican caucus that favors this strategy. And since the party only has a very narrow majority right now, even a small group of holdouts could force McConnell to adjust the timetable on repealing ObamaCare.

Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee, Rob Portman of Ohio, Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska offered an amendment Monday night to the budget resolution that would extend the target date for the committees to write an Obamacare repeal bill to March 3 from Jan. 27.

“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. “By extending the deadline for budget reconciliation instructions until March, Congress and the incoming administration will each have additional time to get the policy right.”

That’s a mere five-week delay, but the logic suggests more delays to come. If House and Senate Republicans can’t cook up a replacement bill in February — and after eight years of failing to arrive at a consensus, there’s no reason to think they can do so in a matter of weeks — then repeal would presumably be delayed further.

It had better not be, Trump told the Times this afternoon. Don’t ask me how this new position squares with what he said last week about letting ObamaCare fail under its own weight. I haven’t the slightest idea.

Mr. Trump, who seemed unclear about the timing of already scheduled votes in Congress this week, demanded a repeal vote “probably some time next week,” and said “the replace will be very quickly or simultaneously, very shortly thereafter.”

Mr. Trump said there was no cause for delay. And he said he would not accept a delay of more than a few weeks before a replacement plan was voted on. “Long to me would be weeks,” he said. “It won’t be repeal and then two years later go in with another plan.” That directly contradicts House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s plans

Mr. Trump issued a political warning to Democrats who might stand in his way, saying he would campaign against lawmakers, especially in states that he won in November.

How many of the five senators named above would actually dare vote against repeal later this month if McConnell called their bluff and brought a bill to the floor, especially knowing that Trump wants to move quickly on it? And, as importantly, how many other Republicans might be willing to vote no on repeal even if a few of these five get cold feet? CNN:

“I take (Senate Minority Leader Chuck) Schumer at his word that if we just go ahead and repeal, Democrats won’t provide one vote for enacting the replacement,” [Ron Johnson] said. “So I think we need to actually have a game plan.”

Asked whether he might vote against the reconciliation bill that repeals Obamacare if there isn’t a replacement plan by the time Congress takes it up, Johnson simply said: “That’s hypothetical. I’m hoping we’ll have one.”

Sen. John McCain, who previously suggested he would like his party to slow down on repeal efforts, demurred when asked Monday if he had concerns about a “repeal and delay” strategy.

Including Johnson and McCain, that’s seven Republican votes potentially against repeal. Lamar Alexander makes eight, as he said last night that the GOP should “begin to create that alternative and once it’s available to the American people, then we can finally repeal Obamacare,” which also suggests a delayed approach to repeal. Realistically, I think, the only Democrat who might cross the aisle to vote for repeal is Joe Manchin, which means that all Schumer needs to block a repeal bill — for now — is four Republican defectors of the eight named. That seems doable. And if it is, the “repeal and delay” strategy is dead.

Which may be a good thing. It isn’t very popular:


Polling on “repeal and delay” is tricky because (as here) the pollster doesn’t make clear that the ObamaCare exchanges will continue after repeal, until the replacement system is ready. If you lead people to think that they might be left with nothing after repeal passes, then yeah, they’re destined to favor holding off on repeal until the replacement is set to go. But fair or not, that’s a political fact of life: Democrats will use every scare tactic in their possession to convince voters that immediate repeal in the absence of a replacement is apt to leave them high and dry, which will turn the public sour on the maneuver. And in fairness, they might end up being right. If insurers run from the exchanges after repeal, some consumers really might be left with nothing.

Paul Ryan was asked about all of this today at his weekly press conference and said that the Senate will attempt to replace parts of ObamaCare via the reconciliation process at the same time they’re repealing parts of the law. Which parts? No specifics yet. Exit quotation: “It’s our goal to bring it all together concurrently.”