Wyoming Lawmakers Fight For Conservative Health Bill

Sep 5, 2014

During the last two elections Wyoming Republicans campaigned on repealing and replacing so-called Obamacare – but House Republicans have yet to vote on a replacement. Matt Laslo has a look from Washington on the debate dividing Republicans in Congress.

Remember “repeal and replace”? It’s the campaign slogan that helped Republicans gain control of the House in 2010 and keep that majority in 2012. House leaders carried through on their promise to repeal the health law – casting more than 40 votes to scrap or defund all or part of the law. But the party hasn’t voted on an alternative bill yet. Wyoming Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis admits that it’s overdue. 

“Yeah, I expected us to vote before the August recess on our repeal and replace alternative.”

Along with Lummis the majority of House Republicans have signed onto a bill that allows people to purchase health insurance across state lines while also reforming medical malpractice laws they argue drive costs up. It also allows individuals to deduct health costs from their taxes. That bill is sponsored by the conservative Republican Study Committee, which Lummis is hoping to lead next year. She’s proud of her group’s bill.

“I believe that it contains the elements that would allow doctor-and-patient relationships to continue to be as they were; that were provide the opportunity for us to as Republicans address pre-existing conditions, which I think is a must.”

Lummis said GOP leaders should allow their bill to be debated even if it reveals some divisions in the party.

“For crying out loud, we’ve got the Republican Study Committee drafts and other drafts that have been floating around for months and months. So it is, I believe, the right thing to do: Bring it up in September.”

Virginia Republican Congressman Rob Wittman is a conservative who also supports the bill Lummis is pushing. But he says he understands why party leaders haven’t brought it up for a vote.

They’ve got other members. So I know they’re trying to navigate through and figure out how to do things. So you know, I do believe that they’re listening, trying to come up and find that common ground to bring something forward.”

After taking dozens of votes to repeal the health law, rank and file Republicans fear they’re going to get called out by voters for not offering the health care bill they promised voters in 20-10 and 20-12. Congressman Richard Hanna is a more moderate Republican from New York. He says party leaders should stop nipping at the edges of Obamacare and offer a true GOP alternative.

“No, they haven’t done anything that’s comprehensive. And you know, I think – I think that they should.”

The internal GOP debate is providing fodder for Democrats in an election cycle that increasingly doesn’t look to be going their way. Virginia Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly says the lack of a GOP replacement is telling.

“Not having a vote exposes the Republicans for who and what they are on the subject, which is, you know, empty. I mean, it’s just vacuous. They don’t have a better idea. In fact they apparently don’t have any ideas at all in part because one of their key ideas, which was individual responsibility – you know, the individual mandate was a Republican, conservative think-tank idea, not a liberal, Democratic idea. Well, we took that idea.”

Many Washington pundits say Republican leaders are avoiding offering their own bill to give their party cover in a year that’s already going their way. Lummis disagrees, “Now, whether our leadership wants to do that right before an election remains to be seen. I actually think that it would be healthy to bring it up before an election because then we can show people we really do have an alternative.”

But other Republicans say it’s stupid to force members to take a difficult vote when in reality anything they pass is likely to sit untouched in the Democratic controlled Senate. Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi says it’s actually been Democrats avoiding the tough choices on how to reform their own bill.

“And even if there isn’t a Republican majority after the election – and I suspect there will be – there are going to have to be some drastic changes to it because it’s unsustainable in its present form.”  

This fall lawmakers face a large stack of unfinished business, like the border crisis and deteriorating situations overseas. Many rank and file Republicans are hoping that list includes a chance to carry through on their promise to replace the health care law, but it isn’t looking likely.