Sen. Rand Paul on Friday said conservatives are being told to “take it or leave it” when it comes to the emerging House GOP plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, setting up a major clash with leaders hoping to mark up legislation as soon as next week.
Republicans are trying to repeal and replace as much of the Affordable Care Act as they can under a fast-track budget process that allows them to avoid a Democratic filibuster.
Leaders have outlined a three-week timetable to get the legislation over to the Senate, where it must meet arcane budget rules and gather consensus among Republicans who hold a 52-seat majority.
Yet a trio of Senate conservatives — Mr. Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah — have objected to the House GOP approach, on top of centrists who are worried about unwinding Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid for the poor or defunding Planned Parenthood over its abortion practice as part of the draft plan.
“The House is going to send something over, and you either take it or leave it,” Mr. Paul told CNN of leadership’s approach. “But I can tell you right now conservatives are inclined to leave it. We want a complete repeal bill, and the replacement bill should be separate, because we do have differences of opinion on the replacement.”
Mr. Paul has swiftly become the chief agitator against a House GOP plan to provide refundable, age-based tax credits to people who purchase insurance on their own, while paying for it by taxing a portion of particularly generous employer-sponsored plans.
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Conservatives have cast the plan as a new entitlement, or “Obamacare lite,” and Mr. Paul angered House GOP leaders by searching for the latest draft of the bill on Capitol Hill, saying it’s being kept under lock and key.
“When we heard it was secret, we wanted to see it even more,” Mr. Paul said.
Relevant committees have said they aren’t trying to hide anything, but rather fine-tune their legislation before it’s held out for debate and amendments.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan also said their proposals shouldn’t be a surprise, since members had the chance to offer their ideas before the GOP caucus released a consensus blueprint during last year’s campaign.
A Politico report Friday said a revised version of the GOP’s draft bill, dated Feb. 24, retains the refundable tax credits but would tighten up the verification process for employed people, who must prove they don’t have access to adequate insurance through their jobs.
It also said staff have been directed to consider whether an income cutoff for the tax credit is warranted, so that wealthier people don’t qualify for assistance.
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GOP lawmakers had floated the idea after emerging from a closed-door meeting on health care before leaving town for the weekend.
“I certainly would favor that,” said Rep. Phil Roe, Tennessee Republican, said of an income cap. “I don’t think I need a refundable tax credit.”
Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican and leading critic of the draft plan, this week had criticized the plan by saying it would tax the middle class “to give subsidies to others who could, indeed, be millionaires.”
Still, conservatives’ objections are broader than income. They said Congress should fulfill their repeal promise to voters by reviving a 2015 effort that gained widespread consensus, before debating replacements separately.
They also demanded transparency.
“If they’re not embarrassed about the ‘Obamacare lite’ bill they have, they should show it to us,” Mr. Paul said. “But they also need to realize, they are not going to be able to do this against the wishes of conservatives. We have enough votes in the Senate, and we have enough votes in the House, to say, ‘Look, hold up a minute, if you want these big government programs, put them in a separate bill.’”