House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan says Republicans must have a plan to replace Obamacare by late June, a deadline that coincides with a Supreme Court decision that could blow a huge hole in the controversial law.
The Wisconsin Republican is working with other House chairmen to craft the GOP’s long-awaited alternative to President Obama’s health reforms. Their Senate counterparts are meeting, too, ahead of the justices’ ruling at the end of this term.
“We have to have a plan in place by then,” Mr. Ryan told reporters.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the closely watched case known as King v. Burwell, with challengers saying the administration is breaking the law by paying tax subsidies to customers in states that rely on the federal HealthCare.gov exchange. The law says subsidies can be paid to customers in exchanges “established by the state.”
If the subsidies are struck down, the law will be much less attractive to customers in at least 34 states that rely on the federal portal. Plans would no longer be affordable, and premiums could skyrocket if healthier enrollees drop coverage first.
Republicans are cheering on the case, as it provides their best opportunity yet to scale down Obamacare and present their own ideas ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
The opportunity comes with political peril, because the administration and its Democratic allies will hold the GOP responsible for the case’s fallout.
Administration officials say the law is fine as written, and there is no need to put a Plan B in place to deal with an adverse ruling.
Mr. Ryan said Republicans cannot take a similar stance.
“We need to have an alternative. That is the responsible thing to do,” he said. The president is saying that he had no back-up plan. I just don’t think that’s responsible.”
Democrats say Republicans are fanning the flames of the King challenge and then asking the administration to put them out.
There is no evidence, they’ve said, that any state or federal leaders thought the availability of the subsidies would be tied to how the states set up their exchanges.
The law is working and should be left alone, they’ve argued.
Mr. Ryan said Democrats couldn’t get a single-payer system or federal-only platform through Congress when they hammered out the Affordable Care Act five years ago, since some senators wanted to empower the states.
He thinks the state-centered language at issue in King was put into the bill to appease those senators, but framers couldn’t clean up any problems between the Democratic majorities in each chamber because newly elected Republican Sen. Scott Brown broke their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.
“Poorly drafted, but I think it was intentionally drafted the way it was,” Mr. Ryan said of the contested language. “That’s my impression of the situation.”
Mr. Brown’s election in early 2010 forced Democrats to finish up the health package through a budget process known as reconciliation.
Now, Republicans may use the same tool to put an Obamacare-repeal bill on Mr. Obama desk.
House Republicans muscled through a budget plan this week, and Senate Republicans are expected to follow suit.
That sets the table for a compromise that allows Congress to pass spending bills and other legislation to carry out the blueprint, such as the Obamacare repeal or an overhaul of the tax code.
Mr. Ryan said the GOP’s use of reconciliation will be colored by how the justices rule in the King case, so they’re keeping their options open.
“It’s just too soon to tell,” he said.