One major casualty of Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s primary loss this week could be the final chance for House Republicans to pass a substitute to Obamacare this year — likely dooming the second half of the party’s “repeal and replace” campaign mantra.
His vow to hold a vote on a “bold alternative” to replace President Obama’s health law was already in doubt, with House Republicans divided over both the policy and political wisdom of a replacement effort.
Tuesday’s Virginia primary election, however, delivered a potentially fatal blow when Mr. Cantor lost to tea party-backed challenger David Brat, and then announced Wednesday that he would give up his leader’s post at the end of July, rendering him a lame duck.
“It didn’t improve the chances,” said Rep. Phil Roe, Tennessee Republican, who added that the path forward on health care will depend on who the caucus selects to replace Mr. Cantor and the decisions that emanate from that vote.
The GOP pledged to repeal and replace Obamacare in its 2010 “Pledge to America,” and reiterated that pledge in the 2012 campaign. This January, Mr. Cantor, who as majority leader determines the House floor schedule, pledged to hold a vote on a GOP replacement plan.
On Thursday, a spokesman said they are still proceeding.
“The majority leader believes conservatives should present a bold alternative to Obamacare, and he will continue to work toward that end,” spokesman Rory Cooper said.
But so far, while they’ve held dozens of votes to repeal all or part of the law, they have yet to offer a unified replacement plan.
“They’ve had five years to put a bold alternative on the floor,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said Thursday. “They haven’t done it, in my opinion, because they don’t have it.”
Republicans get frustrated when pundits and Democrats say they have no health care ideas of their own. Rep. Tom Price of Georgia has a replacement bill, and so does the Republican Study Committee. The RSC legislation even has a majority of House Republicans signed on as co-sponsors.
But many Republicans remain fearful of giving President Obama and his Democratic allies an easy target ahead of November’s elections.
With Mr. Cantor’s loss, members are more focused on personnel and whether to duke it out over immigration and other stormy issues.
“After congressman Cantor’s defeat, it’s difficult to imagine much of anything getting done in the House and Senate for the rest of the year, especially when it comes to Cantor’s fixes to Obamacare,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and former spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.
He said Mr. Cantor “was smart enough to realize that ‘just say no to Obamacare’ was an untenable position,” but there was no way his caucus was going to go along with a comprehensive replacement.
In the Senate, Republicans have been reluctant to expend much energy on a firm replacement plan while Mr. Reid controls the upper chamber. Instead, they’ve touted broad principles and a blueprint for reform crafted by Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Orrin Hatch of Utah.