- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 29, 2017

Capitol Hill Republicans swept into power vowing to swiftly dismantle Obamacare with President Trump, but they already have blown their first self-imposed deadline to begin repealing the law.

A quartet of key committees in the House and the Senate were supposed to have written their repeal plans by Friday, according to the budget that both chambers passed a couple of weeks ago.

But none of the committees has acted, leaving Republicans to say the “not later than” deadline they set was more of a suggestion.

Donald Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said the Jan. 27 date is nonbinding, while House Republicans said they made some headway last week during their two-day policy retreat in Philadelphia.

“House and Senate Republicans just wrapped up two days of discussing and planning our legislative agenda for the months ahead. Reconciliation and health care were primary focuses in Philadelphia and will be in the weeks ahead,” said Mike Long, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican.

Reconciliation is Washington-speak for the budget process Republicans are using to try to repeal Obamacare. The budget orders committees to produce certain legislation, and those committees then send their plans back to the Budget Committee, which reconciles them with each other — creating a final plan.

Because it’s part of the budget process, the plan can pass with just a majority vote, denying Democrats the chance to filibuster.

There is no penalty for missing the self-imposed deadline, but it will likely feed into Democrats’ jeers that Republicans are struggling.

“I think that more and more, they recognize there is no replacement and they can’t come up with one,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

As it stands, Republicans are hoping to repeal and replace as much of the law as they can through reconciliation by late March or April.

Yet outside conservative groups are itching for the Republican-led Congress to fulfill its promise of repeal, complicating the situation.

“Legislation produced after Jan. 27 is still eligible for expedited consideration in the Senate as long as it complies with the reconciliation instructions included in the fiscal year 2017 budget resolution,” James Wallner, group vice president for research at the conservative Heritage Foundation, wrote in commentary for The Daily Signal. “Yet the fact that congressional Republicans are unable to meet this deadline suggests that they may be less committed to repealing Obamacare than previously expected.”

Republican leaders originally planned to repeal Obamacare using the budget, then develop a replacement plan over the course of this congressional session. But pressure from Mr. Trump and rank-and-file Republican lawmakers forced them to link a replacement plan with the repeal.

That replacement is dragging as Republicans try to find unanimity.

Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, sensed danger in the Jan. 27 deadline early on and offered an amendment that would have pushed the date to March 4. But he withdrew his amendment after Republican leaders said the deadline was more a starting point.

Mr. Corker said in a statement last week that the latest delay is good because it will give Mr. Trump and his pick to lead the Health and Human Services Department, Rep. Tom Price, time to work through all the steps needed to repeal and replace Obamacare.

“That was the intent of our amendment, and I am encouraged that it helped shift the debate from ‘repeal only’ to ‘repeal and replace’ in a thoughtful and deliberative manner,” he said. “It is important we get this right, so I am actually glad Congress is taking its time to ensure we put in place a responsible alternative that works for the American people.”

Without a replacement, analysts warn, millions of Americans could be thrown off their health care plans and chaos would engulf the insurance industry.

The Congressional Budget Office said repealing Obamacare without any replacement could leave 32 million more people without health insurance within a decade.

Congress passed a repeal-only bill using the budget in 2015, only to have President Obama veto it. That effort is serving as a template for this year’s repeal.

Republicans are starting to put their replacement ideas into motion. The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a series of hearings this week on how to take care of people who have medical conditions without an individual mandate or deal with states that have expanded Medicaid.

The four committees that missed the deadline are the House Energy and Commerce, the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Aides reiterated that the Jan. 27 date wasn’t binding and said they were able to write the 2015 repeal even though they missed the deadline that year, too.

Budget aides said they expect the relevant committees to complete and deliver their draft legislation soon so Congress can act on it by the spring.

Some of the panels have taken initial steps. The Ways and Means Committee has begun to examine ways to eliminate the individual mandate. The Senate health care panel is scheduled to explore ways to “stabilize” the individual insurance market on Wednesday.

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