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Now that they have to come up with a plan beyond “vote to repeal Obamacare knowing that President Obama will veto it, then brag to their constituents about having voted to repeal,” Republicans are a little flustered. It turns out that kicking millions of people off their healthcare is a politically dicey move if you don’t at least pretend to have a plan for getting them new coverage. But never mind having a plan for the “replace” part of “repeal and replace,” Republicans don’t even agree on the basic timetable.
Plenty of congressional Republicans know they’re going to need some time: According to Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, “There will be a multiyear transition into the replacement,” while Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch says “We know that to correct it is going to take time, it’s just that simple.” But their president elect is, as is so often the case, not reliably on that message:
“No, we’re going to do it simultaneously,” Trump said in a post-election interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” “It’ll be fine.”
For that matter, some congressional Republicans don’t think repealing without a replacement in place is a great idea:
When a reporter asked [Sen. Lamar] Alexander on Tuesday whether he was worried about talk of repealing Obamacare in January, once the new Congress begins, he said: “It would only concern me if [we] hadn’t figured out a way to replace it. I’m almost certain we’ll start almost immediately to replace Obamacare and repeal it. But in the end, they’ll finally have to be done at the same time.”
Alexander may have some company, even on the House side. Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), a senior deputy majority whip, told Bloomberg Politics: “In my view, the repeal is not nearly as important as replacement.”
Republicans who want to repeal the law immediately—which they can do in the Senate through the reconciliation process, bypassing the filibuster—but with a phase-out period of a few years during which they claim they’ll find a replacement, argue that Democrats will have to bargain on the replacement or face being blamed for its absence. In that scenario, we can look forward to the message “Ignore that we Republicans made your healthcare go away and blame Democrats for not signing on to a bad replacement quickly enough.” And the repeal-and-delay strategy might not work out the way its proponents plan—if Republicans repeal the law, insurers might exit the exchanges for 2018, leaving millions of people without healthcare ahead of schedule. They really don’t know what they’re doing, and it’s about to become clear to a lot more people.
“I think they will be like the dog that caught the bus,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the incoming Senate minority leader. “They’re stuck and that’s why they don’t have a solution.”