Amid the gnashing of teeth about the press corps’ performance and the general circus-like atmosphere at Donald Trump’s press conference, we shouldn’t overlook what a bind he just put his party into on the biggest legislative fight of his presidency.
Asked about Obamacare, Trump largely reiterated comments made to The New York Times, that any overhaul of the system must both repeal the bulk of the Affordable Care Act and replace it “essentially simultaneously.” In addition, Trump said that he would introduce his own plan as soon as Representative Tom Price, the nominee for secretary of Health And Human Services, is confirmed.
This delivers a Viking funeral to the absurd “repeal and delay” concept, which would have built a two-to-four-year cliff for Obamacare in an attempt to force Democrats to collaborate in its elimination. That idea had already been teetering, with multiple senators balking at voting to end the current system without a plan for the future. On Monday, five Republican Senators introduced an amendment to the budget resolution, which tees up instructions for repeal, to give committees until March 3 to return a replacement plan (under the current resolution that deadline is January 27) along with repeal, so they could occur mostly in tandem.
This looks like the new strategy. Paul Ryan pronounced himself on board with a concurrent repeal and replace as well. But delaying the ultimate vote was critical. With no consensus, time would be needed to fashion something that could be credibly called a replacement. Even conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus wanted more time for this purpose.
Trump blew the timeline. He told the Times that he wanted an “immediate” repeal-and-replace package, within weeks of his inauguration. That’s a virtual impossibility, but now congressional Republicans feel obliged to give it a shot. In the emerging game plan, Congress would complete reconciliation instructions this week; then, once the committees release a plan, they would repeal through reconciliation in late February. And finally, they would vote on a replacement before the end of March, likely through multiple legislative pieces.