WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump pushed Congress Tuesday to act swiftly to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law, and follow up quickly with a replacement. House Speaker Paul Ryan, after talking with Trump, announced that the House would aim to take both steps “concurrently.”
The push for speed and coordination came as growing numbers of Republicans expressed concerns about GOP leadership’s plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement in hand, even though the party has had more than six years to come up with one.
Trump made his comments in an interview with The New York Times.
“We have to get to business. Obamacare has been a catastrophic event,” Trump said.
Under the congressional timetable, procedural budget votes set for later this week in the House and Senate will put the repeal process in motion. But the vote on repealing Obamacare isn’t expected until mid-February at earliest; a full replacement hadn’t been expected until months or even years later.
Trump seemed confused about that schedule, telling the Times that the repeal should be “probably sometime next week,” and “the replace will be very quickly or simultaneously, very shortly thereafter.”
Despite his imprecision, Trump was clear that he put an imperative on speed for both repealing and replacing the law. That contradicts the approach sketched out by GOP leaders who’ve described a transition period of months or years between repealing the law and replacing it with something else.
But even before Trump’s comments Tuesday, the notion of a lengthy transition period was running into problems on Capitol Hill from Republicans anxious about waiting too long between repealing the bill and replacing it.
Ryan addressed reporters Tuesday morning and described a new goal.
“It is our goal to bring it all together concurrently,” Ryan said. “We’re going to use every tool at our disposal, through legislation, through regulation, to bring replace concurrent along with repeal, so that we can save people from this mess.”
That may be easier said than done. Under arcane budget rules in the Senate, Republicans will likely be able to use their slim majority to push through repeal legislation without Democratic votes. But they would need Democrats’ help to write a replacement bill. Ryan indicated Tuesday Republicans would try to get around that obstacle by passing some elements of the replacement bill using fast-track Senate rules, too.
Ryan announced the new plan to lawmakers Tuesday morning before discussing it with reporters. “He said we’re going to be doing it concurrently with the repeal. He said he had a conversation yesterday with Donald Trump, and they’re on the same page,” said Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Florida.
GOP lawmakers, particularly House members who face voters every two years, are eager to repeal and replace the mammoth health law before the 2018 midterm elections, and some are frustrated that having finally grabbed the reins of power in Washington, the party is unprepared to act.
“We’ve been at it now for six years and it’s time for us to produce a replacement plan and hopefully we’ll do that in the very near term,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who’s among a group of Republicans pushing for a delay in the repeal bill to allow time to write a replacement.
Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed.