A Freudian slip, or just a usage of a familiar catchphrase? Incoming chief of staff Reince Priebus spoke with Hugh Hewitt earlier today about the top priorities of the incoming Donald Trump administration, and promised that a “repeal and then replace” bill on ObamaCare would be their lead legislative project. That would go counter to some chatter from Capitol Hill of late, where Republicans suggested a commitment to repeal down the road while putting off the replace part of the promise:
HH: A couple of quick questions. Have you guys agreed on the size of the stimulus that you’re going to ask Congress for at the beginning of the legislative session?
RP: Well, no. I think we’re probably going to lead with Obamacare repeal and then replace, then we will have tax, you know, we’ll have a small tax reform package, and then a bigger tax reform package at the end of April. So I think what you’re looking at is between two tax reform packages and reconciliation in the first nine months, you’re looking at what essentially comes down to like three basically different budget packages. And so it’s going to be a ton of work. Not to mention, you’ve got cabinet secretary appointments, a Supreme Court appointment, and you know the Senate calendar, how frustrating that can be. So it’s going to be a busy year starting with the first nine months being very much consumed through Obamacare and tax reform.
Hugh didn’t ask a follow-up on this point, but found it significant enough to highlight on Twitter in response to NRO’s Rich Lowry:
.@hughhewitt he literally said repeal AND REPLACE is coming first? does anyone on Capitol Hill know this?
— Rich Lowry (@RichLowry) December 14, 2016
— Hugh Hewitt (@hughhewitt) December 14, 2016
Preibus’ comment might be significant, or it just might be following the usual nomenclature. One has to suspect, however, that appointing fierce ObamaCare critic Tom Price to head HHS and Seema Verma at CMS would presage a bold move. On the other hand, making it the lead project either requires that comprehensive repeal-replace legislature is finalized quickly or that it will come in stages. Two weeks ago, I wrote about Price’s legislative approach, which could be adopted immediately — or at least as far as the “reconciliation” process will allow:
Price has attempted to repeal and replace Obamacare since before its passage. Democrats have repeatedly accused Republicans of having no alternative to the ACA for health insurance reform, but Price introduced a bill in July 2009 that would have offered reform on free-market principles rather than a federal government takeover of the insurance markets.
Called the “Empowering Patients First Act,” it included the following:
- Tax incentives for buying health insurance rather than a mandate and tax penalties for opting out.
- Federal block grants to states predicated in part on establishing high-risk pools for people with pre-existing conditions.
- Expansion of health-savings accounts (HSAs) for pre-tax medical expenses. Freeing up interstate insurance sales to allow for greater competition.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because Price had a lot of influence on the latest proposal from House Republicans on an Obamacare replacement. Called “A Better Way,” House Speaker Paul Ryan published it this summer to give Republicans a platform on which to use the election as a referendum on the Obamacare. It includes the same concepts and goals of Price’s 2009 legislation, and Price worked closely with Ryan to keep the focus on free-market reforms mixed with tax credits and state jurisdiction.
Price’s approach would eliminate significant changes to Medicare, however, that will make the issue of entitlement collapse more acute. That could be a feature rather than a bug to Paul Ryan, who wants to tackle that issue sooner rather than later, but Trump has been adamant that he isn’t interested in a revamp of Medicare any time soon.
Hugh’s interview produced more intriguing information, including the revelation that Trump hasn’t started working on a Supreme Court nominee yet. Priebus says that they will have one ready around the inauguration:
HH: Let’s turn to the Supreme Court, Reince Priebus. Has the President-Elect had any interviews in person with would-be nominees, yet?
RP: No. We’re not doing any of that, yet. Obviously, I think that’s going to be something that we’re going to start after the new year, and certainly by the time we get to inauguration, either shortly before or shortly thereafter. We’ll reveal the name of who our nominee will be.
However, expect most of the media to focus on Priebus’ comments about media relations in the White House, Hugh started off by asking whether Trump would continue the “boring Saturday morning addresses” in favor of doing morning drive-time radio on Fridays to drive the news cycle. Priebus says they’re open to lots of changes:
RP: …mundane, boring episodes. And you know, even looking at things like the daily White House briefing from the press secretary, I mean, there’s a lot of different ways that things can be done, and I can assure you we’re looking at that.
HH: And that brings me, Glenn Thrush on Wednesday said there is worry in the White House Press Corps that they’re going to do away with the traditional bullpen, the upstairs, the downstairs. Now I do want the front row given over to Salem Media, but what do you, what are the plans for the press corps and that traditional approach?
RP: We’re, and I hate blowing things off, because I’m not doing it on purpose, it just so happens that we’re actually talking about those things right now. And what the new tradition, I guess you could say, should be in the Trump White House. You know, this was the first front row assigned seat issue, as I understand it, started in the Obama administration. In the Bush administration, you just took a seat, and I guess there were a couple of people that have had reserved spots. But for the most part, the more formalized reserved seating piece came in over the last eight years. That issue is being talked about. The point of all of this conversation is that the traditions, while some of them are great, I think it’s time to revisit a lot of these things that have been done in the White House, and I can assure you that change is going to happen, even on things that might seem boring like this topic, but also change as far as how we’re going to approach tax reform, the American worker, how we protect them and business all at the same time why skyrocketing our economy.
This is being interpreted as Priebus suggesting that daily briefings will be eliminated, but it sounds more like he’s suggesting that seating charts won’t be continued at them. That’s hardly revolutionary, but since it involves the media, expect these comments to be the Bright Shiny Object of today’s news cycle. Unless Jay-Z and Beyoncé drop by Trump Tower, that is.