Paul Ryan's claim to fame has been as a conservative budget wonk who brings his charts with him
As Speaker, he's trying assuage conservatives who oppose his plans to replace Obamacare
Instead of House Speaker Paul Ryan, it was Professor Paul Ryan who showed up at the weekly news conference in the Capitol on Thursday morning, as he sought to make an intellectual defense of Republican leadership’s plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Forgoing the traditional give-and-take with reporters, Ryan launched at TED talk-style presentation. With his shirtsleeves rolled up and wearing a wireless microphone that allowed him to move around, the speaker rattled off a stream of facts and figures and clicked through PowerPoint slides.
It was vintage Ryan – whose political rise came from his position as the wonky budget committee chairman who toted around his charts and graphs to explain his proposals to reform entitlement programs and lower the exploding federal debt.
What Ryan only made a passing reference to in his roughly 30-minute lecture was the growing feud inside his own party that threatens to derail the health care bill he and other top GOP committee chairmen unveiled Monday.
Conservatives from the House Freedom Caucus complain that the measure doesn’t amount to full repeal and argue that it replaces the law with another entitlement program.
The speaker noted “there is a frustration” and “a lot of confusion,” but explained that reconciliation, the budget tool Republicans are using to pass the Obamacare repeal with a simple majority in the Senate, “has its limits.”
Earlier on Thursday a top Senate conservative joined the critique. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas tweeted that the bill and the move to push it through the committees this week was flawed. “House health-care bill can’t pass Senate w/o major changes. To my friends in House: pause, start over. Get it right, don’t get it fast” Cotton said.
Ryan’s presentation, which was designed to be featured on cable news, walked through the “American Health Care Act,” the GOP bill. His message was aimed at Republicans and voters who backed the effort to overhaul the law: this was a critical time to get something done now that the party controls the White House and the Congress.
“If you told me 10 years ago where we would be I’d ‘d be in a dream. I’d be doing backflips,” Ryan said, adding, “This is the chance, this is the once in a lifetime opportunity.”
He sympathized with those colleagues who were demanding more bold action, but said “unfortunately the Senate rules don’t’ allow us to do that.”
Ryan sprinkled his lecture with personal anecdotes about his three children all needing tonsillectomies and how his family dealt with multiple doctors and insurance companies. The speaker revealed he had Lasik surgery to improve his vision.
When pressed why the GOP plan proposed tax credits in varying size depending on age – a component that is also a contentious feature inside his party, Ryan defended the approach. He noted that a dozen of the conservatives in the Freedom Caucus now attacking those credits once cosponsored a bill proposed by then-Georgia Rep. Price last year.
Ryan also said congressional Republicans had a plan coming after this legislation passed that would out in place their proposals to replace Obamacare – like allowing insurers to sell policies across state lines. But he admitted those bills will need Democratic support.
When pressed why the GOP plan proposed tax credits in varying size depending on age – a component that is also a contentious feature inside his party, Ryan defended the approach. He noted that a dozen of the conservatives in the Freedom Caucus now attacking those credits once cosponsored a bill proposed by then Georgia Rep. Price last year.
Asked about the opposition by key industry groups needed to implement a new system, Ryan said the GOP legislation can’t alter the regulations that govern what insurers have to provide in their plans, and that was another issue that would have to be addressed by Price’s agency.
“Thank you for putting up with my presentation,” Ryan said at the end of his presentation, taking just three questions from reporters and ignoring those trying to press him on how he would bridge the divide in his own party, how much the plan would ultimately cost or how many would be covered.