- House to vote on Obamacare; President Obama has pledged to veto bill
- Speaker Paul Ryan wants to use the House to draw contrasts with Democrats
Washington (CNN)House Speaker Paul Ryan kicks off the new year with an old Republican priority: repealing Obamacare.
With the presidential campaign kicking into high gear, Ryan has said his 2016 plan is largely about drawing a contrast with Democrats and delivering a blueprint for the eventual Republican nominee to pick up and use as a platform once the party coalesces around a candidate later this year.
It starts with the vote Wednesday giving the Republicans a chance to do something they've been attempting for five years: getting a bill that rolls back key parts of President Barack Obama's signature health care law to his desk.
Obama has already pledged to veto the bill, and the GOP doesn't have the votes to override a veto. But the vote is a two-fer for the Republican base -- the bill also would strip taxpayer money for Planned Parenthood, something the GOP was unable to get through as part of the spending bill approved shortly before the holidays.
Many Republicans who oppose abortion rights denounced Planned Parenthood after a series of videos were released from an anti-abortion advocacy group last year that it says shows officials discussed selling fetal tissue. The group denied any improper activity and Democrats strongly opposed efforts to block federal funds.
Ryan outlined an agenda centered around the theme for a "confident America" in a speech last month at the Library of Congress, citing tax reform, trade legislation and proposals aimed at reducing poverty as items he wanted to tackle. The speaker pledged House Republicans will unveil an alternative to replace Obamacare, something GOP leaders have promised to do since the health care law was enacted in 2010.
At the same time, he hasn't committed to having votes on any of these proposals, saying he doesn't want to prejudge a "bottom up process" that would give committee chairmen the power to craft legislative proposals and put their own stamp on them. Ryan insists he won't lay out a detailed legislative plan until he gets input from rank-and-file at a party retreat next week in Baltimore that will include sessions with Senate Republicans.
But conservatives are eager to go on the record, and have been disappointed that their leaders haven't allowed them to show they are keeping the promises they made when they took control of the House in 2010, and won back the Senate in 2014.
"There should definitely be votes -- we have to show that we genuinely want to do things differently and here's how," Ohio GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, an influential group of conservatives, told CNN.
Democrats say Wednesday's vote isn't a sign of change. It will be the 62nd time Congress has moved to repeal all or parts of Obamacare, and they say that starting off the session with a partisan proposal is evidence that Ryan isn't serious about legislating.
"This may be consistent with Mr. Ryan's, Speaker Ryan's agenda of essentially doing messaging in 2016 in preparation for the presidential election," the No. 2 House Democrat, Rep. Steny Hoyer, told reporters on Tuesday. He argued the GOP was reacting to the three candidates representing the party's base wanting an outsider to lead the country -- businessman Donald Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who Hoyer dubbed the "alliance of the angry."
The bill is expected to pass the House mostly along party lines. It uses a budget tool known as "reconciliation," which allows the Senate to pass legislation with a simple majority, avoiding a filibuster from Democrats to block the bill that includes two items they repeatedly rejected. The GOP-controlled Senate passed it before the holidays.
At Wednesday morning's closed-door House GOP conference meeting, Ryan told members he will hold an "enrollment ceremony" Thursday to sign the bill before sending it off to the White House. He invited all House Republicans to attend, a source in the meeting said.
An 'ideas factory'
Ryan and top GOP leaders huddled in Annapolis, Maryland, early this week to begin charting plans for the compressed legislative year (the House is only in session 111 days in 2016). Next week, after the President's State of the Union address, which they will largely ignore, House and Senate Republicans head to Baltimore to finalize their next moves.
Ryan wants the House to be an "ideas factory" a senior GOP leadership aide tells CNN. He cites the model used in 1980 when then-Rep. Jack Kemp, a mentor of his, crafted a tax-reform proposal that President Ronald Reagan used when he was elected to shape a major overhaul of the complicated code.
The speaker repeatedly insists he won't engage in the day-to-day debate on the 2016 presidential campaign contest but he is co-hosting a forum on poverty with presidential candidates on Saturday in South Carolina. Although several candidates have committed to appearing-- including GOP Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush -- the top two Republican candidates leading in the polls, Trump and Cruz, are not slated to attend.
Jordan also cited the Kemp model to CNN and agreed with Ryan the role of the House was to demonstrate that Republicans were doing what voters sent them to Washington to do -- cut spending, reduce big government and reform entitlement programs. He told CNN that the GOP should consider using the same budget device it is using on Obamacare to get a proposal to overhaul federal welfare programs to the President's desk in 2016.
Authorization of force, spending bills
Moderate House Republicans also want to see the House take votes on tough issues. Virginia Rep. Scott Rigell, who represents a competitive district that is home to many military forces in the Norfolk area, is pressing for Congress to vote on war authorization, or a new "Authorization for Use of Military Force" to address the continuing war against the terror group ISIS.
He said his constituents "want us to dial down the harshness and the deep persistent questioning of motives" in Washington and try to find common ground on issues.
Jordan, who serves on the House Oversight Committee, also cites Congress' function of holding government officials accountable as a key focus for 2016. He called for Ryan to move ahead with impeachment proceedings against Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen. He has come under fire for his handling of a scandal in which the agency admitted it targeted conservative groups during the last presidential campaign.
The Freedom Caucus chairman, who backed Ryan to take John Boehner's place last fall after the speaker abruptly resigned, said he heard complaints from many voters in his district over the holidays about the year-end bipartisan spending bill that Ryan negotiated and he opposed.
"People hate the big spending omnibus that didn't address real conservative concerns," Jordan said. But he also said many told him they believe Ryan is an effective spokesman at the national level to chart where the party plans to go in 2016.
Ryan is planning a flurry of media appearances around this week's vote repealing Obamacare, and also around next week's State of the Union address. He forcefully came out against the President's executive actions on gun control on Tuesday, which GOP members vow they will attempt to overturn.
One promise Ryan made when he decided to run for speaker was to ensure spending bills funding federal agencies will go through "regular order." This means members will get to offer a wide range of amendments, and engage in hours of freewheeling debate on the House floor.
Moving these one-by-one avoids another massive year-end bill that critics say many members don't get time to review. They want a transparent process showing how Congress is addressing defense, homeland security, environmental issues and other issues.
Members across the political spectrum cite the speaker's refrain about regular order as something they believe can transform the way the House does business.
But the calendar poses a serious challenge for Ryan. There are a dozen spending bills he wants to get votes on the House floor and the early Republican National Convention slated to crown a nominee in July means the bulk of the action on those will have to get done before the extended summer break.
While Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid agreed he wouldn't block consideration of these bills, Democrats still have the votes in the Senate to reject them from passing. Another fall clash over spending, just weeks before the election, could test Ryan's ability to hold his party together and avoid a possible shutdown.
"If there's anyone that's got the skills, the smarts and the likability factor to navigate through this it's Paul Ryan," Rigell told CNN.