WASHINGTON — Republican anxiety is mounting over voting to unravel the health care law without having an alternative in hand, fanned by words of encouragement from Donald Trump to a GOP senator who wants to simultaneously repeal and replace the statute.
GOP leaders have made dismantling President Barack Obama’s treasured health care overhaul their premier 2017 priority. But even as the Republican-run Senate moves toward passing a budget that would make it harder for Democrats to protect Obama’s law later, at least six GOP senators have expressed qualms about repeal without having a substitute — something Republicans have failed for years to produce.
“We should start immediately to repeal, reform and replace Obamacare, and it shouldn’t be finally repealed until we have a replacement ready,” Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., whose panel will be at the center of this year’s battle, said in a brief interview.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who wants repeal and replace together, said the president-elect telephoned him Friday to voice support for that timing. Trump voiced that opinion shortly after his November election, but he called Paul as GOP congressional leaders have moved in a different direction: A quick repeal vote, followed by work on an alternative that could take months or years to craft.
“He’s aware of my arguments for doing replacement at the same time, and he agreed,” Paul said.
Even if Congress passed repeal rapidly, Republicans say they would phase it in, perhaps over two or three years. Republicans don’t want to abruptly end coverage for 20 million Americans who’ve received coverage under the 2010 law, and don’t want to be vulnerable to Democrats already accusing them of preparing to tear down the statute without knowing how or if they’ll replace it.
“Turn back before it’s too late,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor just short of midnight as Democrats, before leaving for the night, lambasted Republicans with five-and-a-half hours of speeches. “It will damage your party,” Schumer said, “and it will hurt millions of Americans, far more importantly.”