The House Freedom Caucus endorsed the Obamacare repeal bill
The Freedom Caucus's moves this week are only deepening internal GOP tensions
The conservative House Freedom Caucus officially endorsed an Obamacare replacement bill introduced by Republican Rep. Mark Sanford and Sen. Rand Paul on Wednesday, a move that puts considerable pressure on GOP party leaders to act quickly to overhaul the Affordable Care Act.
CNN first reported Tuesday night on the details of the Paul-Sanford bill based on a summary of the legislation: It would lift restrictions on insurers and give Americans more tax breaks for buying and using health care. Politically, the bill is intended to send a clear signal that there is no excuse for delaying a vote to roll back the health care law, as top Republicans have yet to unveil a blueprint for an alternative.
“The speculation on what a replacement will look like has created an unnecessary climate of anxiety in this discussion,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said at a press conference. “As members of Congress, we have a responsibility to reassure Americans – particularly those with pre-existing conditions – that they will be protected under a new system.”
Sanford told CNN in an interview to preview the bill that it is simply not tenable for Republicans to repeal Obamacare without a replacement plan.
“I tell my boys all the time: It’s not good to enough to say what you’re against. Tell me what you’re for,” Sanford said. “It’s not enough for us as Republicans to say we are against Obamacare. I think everybody’s got that. The real cause for anxiety is people who (are) concerned about what comes next.”
Pointing to the pro-Obamacare protesters and constituents who have targeted Republican lawmakers’ town halls in recent weeks, Sanford said the GOP has reached an “inflection point.”
“Our simple message is we don’t want to have ‘Obamacare light.’ That would be a mistake,” the South Carolina congressman said. “We’ve all seen the crowds in different town hall meetings. We’ve all gotten the emails and phone calls, and there will be a real temptation to do that based on political forces and based on political fear.”
Sanford and fellow members of the Freedom Caucus have grown increasingly vocal in requesting that GOP leaders move swiftly to repeal Obamacare.
On Monday night, the group voted to urge leadership to bring to the House floor an Obamacare repeal bill that Republicans approved in 2015. That legislation called for repealing the law’s taxes immediately while giving Congress two years to come up with a replacement plan. At that time, the Obamacare mandates would end funding for subsidies, and Medicaid expansion would be eliminated. (Sanford said he would oppose any Obamacare repeal bill that is less aggressive than what Republicans sent to President Barack Obama’s desk in 2015.)
The Freedom Caucus’s moves this week are only deepening internal GOP tensions.
Multiple GOP leadership aides are griping that the group’s requests this week are inconsistent with their own demands from earlier this year. These conservatives were among first to insist that repeal and replace happen simultaneously, the aides said, but are now endorsing a repeal bill from 2015 that would not replace Obamacare at the same time.
The leadership aides also noted that the current repeal package being crafted by top Republicans would include more replacement provisions than the 2015 repeal bill.
The Sanford-Paul legislation is designed to work in conjunction with the repeal reconciliation bill and contains many popular Republican health care provisions.
The measure would allow insurers to sell a wider array of policies, including those with more limited benefits and lower premiums. It would let Americans sock away $5,000 in health savings accounts (HSA) tax-free, up from $3,400 this year, while also enabling those who buy their own coverage to deduct the premiums from their incomes. It would protect those with pre-existing conditions as long as they had continuous coverage.
The bill would also allow people and small business owners to band together through professional associations to purchase insurance, with the goal of decreasing the cost through greater numbers. And it would permit insurers to sell policies across state lines.
The legislation also proposes restricting the use of taxpayer funds for abortion by banning people from using HSA funds for elective abortions.
One of the biggest obstacles for Sanford and Paul will be garnering bipartisan support for their bill in the Senate, where 60 votes will be required to approve Obamacare replacement measures.
“I’m going to focus on the House and Rand will focus on the Senate,” Sanford said. “We’ll take one step at a time.”
Despite the mounting pressure from colleagues, House GOP leaders insisted Tuesday that they were taking a measured approach to overhauling Obamacare.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said at a news conference that leaders are taking a “step-by-step” strategy on repeal and replace.
“We want to get it right, and we’ve been taking our time to do that,” said Republican Rep. Greg Walden, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “You’re going to see us come forward with a replacement bill after we repeal that makes sure that people have access to affordable care health for the first time.”