On Alexander, Corker and Roe maneuvering in Obamacare repeal efforts

Republican members of the Tennessee congressional delegation – especially Sen. Bob Corker – continue actively engaged in the maneuvering to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Here’s an excerpt on Thursday developments, mostly in the Senate, as reported by Politico (followed by PR releases from Corker and Sen. Lamar Alexander plus a bit on Rep. Phil Roe’s efforts):

From Politico:

After a marathon session of votes that lasted into the early hours of Thursday morning, the Senate passed a Republican budget that sets in motion repeal of Obamacare.

The 51-48 vote came after a 7-hour “vote-a-rama” — a rapid-fire series of more than a dozen votes on some of the hottest political issues of the day. The budget, which is expected to be taken up by the House Friday, does not become law. It does, however, provide for a powerful procedural tool known as reconciliation to let Republicans dismantle the health law with simple majorities in the House and Senate. Senate adoption of the budget is the first step in that process.

The quirky Senate ritual of vote-a-rama can be a potent political weapon for the minority to force tough votes, and Democrats sought to squeeze the GOP repeatedly for targeting Obamacare. Republicans, for their part, easily rejected the Democrats’ proposals, which they said they would upend the repeal effort for procedural reasons.

Democrats sought to drive a wedge between Senate Republicans and President-elect Donald Trump by pushing multiple amendments to curb the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs. Trump slammed the pharmaceutical industry as “getting away with murder” at his Wednesday press conference and promised the federal government would soon start negotiating with the industry for better prices. An amendment from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to allow the importation of drugs from Canada failed 46-52, but 12 Republicans voted for it.

… In perhaps the most significant move of the night, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) withdrew an amendment he and several moderate Republicans had proposed to delay by more than a month the deadline for committees to draft the Obamacare repeal bill. A growing number of rank-and-file Republicans have expressed unease about repealing the law without having a replacement ready, for fear of the chaos that could be unleashed on the health system.

But Corker said he was reassured after GOP leadership told him the original Jan. 27 target was “a placeholder” and not a firm deadline to write a reconciliation bill. “We plan to withdraw this amendment,” he said, “and place our faith in the fact that we’re going to do this in a manner that works well for the American people.”

Sanders was not impressed. “I understand Sen. Corker wants more time,” he said. “Maybe they will develop a plan, but right now, what they are talking about is repealing legislation which has brought millions of people health care and they have no substitute.”

News release from Sen. Bob Corker

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), a member of the Senate Budget Committee, today released the following statement after voting for final passage of the 2017 budget resolution (S. Con. Res. 3), which will guide the legislative process to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

“The Affordable Care Act has led to high premiums, rising out-of-pocket costs, and reduced choice across the Volunteer State, and I am pleased Congress has initiated the repeal and replace process,” said Corker. “We need a health care system that works for the American people, and I am encouraged that the debate has shifted in recent weeks from ‘repeal only’ to ‘repeal and replace’ in a thoughtful and deliberative manner. It is important to provide the incoming Trump administration, including its top health care official Dr. Tom Price, with time to review the regulatory and legislative steps needed to replace the Affordable Care Act with a responsible alternative that works well for Tennesseans and does not waste taxpayer resources.”

Title II of the 2017 budget resolution instructs House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over the ACA to develop legislation that would reduce the budget deficit by at least $1 billion each over the next ten years. The resulting reconciliation legislation is expected to include language to repeal and replace the ACA. Corker tonight withdrew his amendment, which would have extended the deadline for reconciliation instructions, following assurances from Senate leadership that Congress will follow a responsible timeline for replacing the health care law.

News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander

WASHINGTON, January 12, 2017 — Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) tonight took the first step toward building better health care systems that give Americans access to truly affordable health care by voting for the Senate budget resolution that provides the tools necessary to begin repealing Obamacare.

He rejected Democrats’ efforts to lock Americans into the failing health care law and its collapsing exchanges.

Alexander has proposed a plan for repealing and replacing Obamacare simultaneously and concurrently, as President-elect Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan have suggested.

In a speech Tuesday night detailing his proposal, Alexander said: “To me, ‘simultaneously’ and ‘concurrently’ mean Obamacare should be finally repealed only when there are concrete, practical reforms in place that give Americans access to truly affordable health care. The American people deserve health care reform that’s done in the right way, for the right reasons, in the right amount of time. It’s not about developing a quick fix. It’s about working toward long-term solutions that works for everyone.”

Alexander likened addressing the collapsing Obamacare exchanges in Tennessee and across the country to handling a collapsing bridge: “If your local bridge were ‘very near collapse,’ the first thing you would do is send in a rescue crew to repair it temporarily so no one else is hurt. Then you would build a better bridge, or more accurately, many bridges, as states develop their own plans for providing access to truly affordable health care to replace the old bridge. Finally, when the new bridges are finished you would close the old bridge.

Alexander proposed a three-step plan: “We will first send in a rescue crew to repair temporarily a collapsing health care market so no one else is hurt.

“Then, step by step, we will build better systems that give Americans access to truly affordable health care. We will do this by moving health care decisions out of Washington, D.C., and back to states and patients.

“Finally, when our reforms become concrete, practical alternatives, we will repeal the remaining parts of Obamacare in order to repair the damage it has caused Americans.  This is what I believe we mean when we say Obamacare should be repealed and replaced, simultaneously and concurrently.”

And, an excerpt from a Johnson City Press report:

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., is making yet another push for the American Health Care Reform Act of 2017 — health care reform that would repeal and replace Obamacare.

Republican Study Committee members rolled out House Resolution 277 on Jan. 4. While the congressman’s bill is on file and is being backed by the committee, the task at hand at this point remains recognition, acceptance and support. Roe, the House Doctors Caucus co-chairman, helped write and introduce the health-care legislation which some Republican repeal-and-replace supporters championed as far back as two years ago.

His first effort did not gain enough traction. Roe filed the bill again this past summer. Again, the legislation did not gain speed and it failed to garner a congressional hearing.

… “This legislation has received widespread support in the conference across multiple Congresses, and proposes a strong conservative vision for the American health care system,” Roe said in a press release Wednesday. “The first step the House will take in our path to immediately repeal Obamacare is to pass the Fiscal Year 2017 budget resolution. Once the House and Senate have agreed to a budget resolution, Congress will have the opportunity to use a powerful tool known as reconciliation.

“Reconciliation gives Senate Republicans the ability to avoid the filibuster on budget-related provisions and pass them on a simple majority vote. Reconciliation is the tool Democrats used in 2010 to get Obamacare through Congress, and now, with a new president, Republicans in Congress will use that same tool to repeal it.”

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Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.
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