The chances of repealing ObamaCare this year are fading further, with top Republicans saying they hardly discussed repeal of the law during a Camp David retreat last weekend focused on their 2018 agenda.
Meanwhile, Republicans say talk of welfare or entitlement reform this year is also narrowing down to an emphasis on things like job training, not the broad overhaul of Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlements that Democrats have warned against.
While some conservative groups and select lawmakers are pushing for ObamaCare repeal in 2018, President Trump and GOP leaders have signaled a desire to move on, at least for now, after unsuccessful repeal efforts sucked up months of the legislative calendar in 2017. Trump also declared after signing the GOP tax overhaul in December, which did away with the mandate that most people buy health insurance or face a tax penalty, that Republicans had “essentially repealed ObamaCare.”“There’s some work we need to do on the health-care front, but I would hope we’re in a position to do things on a bipartisan basis,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), one of the GOP leaders who huddled with Trump at Camp David to discuss the 2018 agenda.
Asked if ObamaCare repeal was discussed in the meetings over the weekend, Cornyn — the Senate’s No. 2 Republican — replied flatly, “No.”
A source familiar with the conversations at Camp David confirmed that ObamaCare repeal was hardly discussed, except for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saying that he did not want to do a partisan bill like ObamaCare repeal or entitlement reform through the fast-track process of reconciliation this year.
ObamaCare repeal has largely fallen off the GOP agenda for 2018, in part due to the realities of a narrower Senate majority than one that already failed to pass a repeal bill. Reopening the divisive issue in an election year would also be tough.
McConnell’s office pointed to his comments at a press conference at the end of December. The GOP leader said then that he wanted to focus on areas of bipartisan agreement in 2018.
When asked about trying to repeal ObamaCare again, McConnell responded that 51-49 is a “pretty tight majority” and noted that “the sensitivity of entitlements is such that you almost have to have a bipartisan agreement in order to achieve a result.”
Democrats have also pointed to comments Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) made late last year about reining in entitlement spending to warn that Republicans could try to cut Medicare and Medicaid in 2018.
But the source familiar with the Camp David meetings said any welfare or entitlement push this year would likely not be through the fast-track reconciliation process aimed at preventing a Democratic filibuster in the Senate.
Instead, the push would be narrower and focus on areas like job training that could potentially get bipartisan support, not Medicare or Medicaid changes.
“It was a little different than what I anticipated,” Cornyn said of the Camp David discussions on welfare reform. “In other words, it’s not Medicare, Social Security, entitlement reform; it is more, workforce training.”
Ryan outlined this emphasis in a press conference on Tuesday, where he made no mention of ObamaCare, Medicare or Medicaid in talking about an agenda for 2018.
Instead, Ryan said, “We’ve got more work to do to work on people, getting them the skills they need so they can get the careers that they want so they can get the lives that they deserve.”
Trump likewise pushed aside the idea of partisan welfare reform in a press conference at Camp David, which was dominated by the president lashing out at a new, critical book about his young administration.
“We’ll try and do something in a bipartisan way, otherwise we’ll be holding it for a little bit later,” Trump said when asked about welfare reform.
It is still possible, though, that some Republican lawmakers could push to bring back ObamaCare repeal this year. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), for example, pushed back against McConnell last month when McConnell suggested moving on from repealing the law.
“To those who believe — including Senate Republican leadership — that in 2018 there will not be another effort to Repeal and Replace Obamacare — you are sadly mistaken,” Graham said on Twitter last month.
Kevin Bishop, a spokesman for Graham, said on Tuesday that those comments still stand.
Conservative groups are also pressuring Republicans to try again on ObamaCare repeal this year. A range of leading groups, including Heritage Action, Club for Growth and Americans for Tax Reform, wrote to Trump last week urging him to push for ObamaCare repeal this year.
The groups want the fast-track reconciliation process, which is needed to avoid Democrats blocking a bill with a filibuster, to be used for ObamaCare repeal. That is essentially the only way to give repeal a chance of passing.
However, it is in doubt whether the reconciliation process can even be used for anything this year. Using the process requires first adopting a budget, which would be hard for Republicans to agree on, especially in an election year.
With ObamaCare repeal out of focus for 2018, most of the law, including its Medicaid expansion and subsidies to help people buy coverage, remains in place.
Republicans have hailed their victory in repealing ObamaCare’s individual mandate as part of the tax bill, which takes out a central feature of the law and one of the most unpopular parts. Still, some experts have warned that removing the mandate will destabilize markets and cause premium increases.
It is possible that Congress could pass measures aimed at stabilizing ObamaCare in the coming weeks, though House conservatives are opposed to those bills.