News

Republican unity tested on Obamacare

Republican unity tested on Obamacare

HEALTHCARE HEADACHE: The often-fractured Republicans, who hold a majority in the House, ended a retreat outside of Washington on Jan. 31 delighted that they had settled on a positive agenda for 2014 that centered on replacing President Barack Obama's landmark healthcare law, which has had a troubled rollout. Photo: Associated Press

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A month after Republicans rallied around offering an alternative to “Obamacare” in an election-year move to broaden their appeal to voters, divisions are surfacing over the issue in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The often-fractured Republicans, who hold a majority in the House, ended a retreat outside of Washington on Jan. 31 delighted that they had settled on a positive agenda for 2014 that centered on replacing President Barack Obama’s landmark healthcare law, which has had a troubled rollout.

The new strategy was put together amid concerns within the Republican Party that simply voting to repeal Obamacare, as they have done more than 40 times, would not be enough to carry them through November’s congressional elections.

House Speaker John Boehner, the top U.S. Republican, told reporters on Thursday that it was important for Republicans to come up with “better solutions” on healthcare.

But Boehner would not commit to putting a Republican alternative to a vote this year. Pressed on his plans to move legislation, he said the party would continue discussions on replacing Obamacare and seek member input. “We’re going to go through a lot of ideas,” Boehner said.

Republicans say Obamacare, passed in 2010, relies too heavily on mandates and results in too much government interference in the marketplace.

The law requires most Americans to buy insurance, offers subsidies to help low-income people receive coverage and sets minimum standards for coverage. It aims to dramatically reduce the number of Americans who lack health insurance policies.

Disagreements over what bill or bills to bring to the House floor were on display on Thursday during a panel discussion on the future of U.S. healthcare that was sponsored by several conservative groups, including the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation.

COMPREHENSIVE BILL

Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who heads a large group of conservative House Republicans, made a spirited pitch for passing a comprehensive bill that would repeal Obamacare and replace it with new limits on medical malpractice suits and expanded access to health savings accounts.

More than half of the House’s 232 Republicans are sponsoring the bill that also would allow people to buy health insurance across state lines and take other steps that Democrats have criticized as insufficient to meet patients’ insurance needs.

Republican Representative Michael Burgess of Texas, an obstetrician and leading voice in his party’s healthcare debate, countered Scalise, saying, “The big-bill concept is one I don’t support.”

Instead, Burgess said, he would like to see more targeted bills move through the House that address the most pressing problems stemming from Obamacare. Larger issues, he said, such as Obamacare repeal, might be best postponed until after this year’s congressional elections or even the 2016 presidential election when Republicans might be in a stronger position.

“Washington is pretty unpopular right now. I don’t think you have the political capital to spend in one lift,” he said in a telephone interview, referring to Scalise’s comprehensive bill.

Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who has close ties to the House Republican leadership, told Reuters on Wednesday that “there is an awful lot of political impetus” for taking action on healthcare, given how controversial Obamacare has become.

Voters, Cole said, want Washington to do something to address an issue that has become one of the most hotly debated in decades.

When members of Congress visit their home districts, Cole said, “Constituents ask them, ‘What are you doing about it.’”

Nevertheless, Cole acknowledged that passing an Obamacare replacement in the House, which likely would be rebuffed by the Senate, would be “tricky” given the intricacies of healthcare and the varying views among House Republicans.

On Friday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is scheduled to convene a meeting of committee chairmen to discuss a way forward.

Republican lawmakers attending last month’s retreat said there was spirited applause when Cantor said he would schedule a floor vote this year.

But as he has seen in the past, bringing rambunctious Republicans together on a bill can be a difficult task.

Last year, Cantor spearheaded a move to advance legislation to help immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children. A year later, that legislation has not been unveiled, much less scheduled for a vote in the full House.

(Additional reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Caren Bohan and Mohammad Zargham)

Recent Headlines

in National, World

Israel warns of long Gaza war as Palestinian fighters cross border

Fresh
Israeli soldiers patrol outside the northern Gaza Strip on July 28, 2014.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dashes any hopes of a swift end to the three-week conflict as Palestinian fighters launched an audacious cross-border raid.

in Sports

Only arguing remains in Sterling trail

FILE - In this Nov. 12, 2010, file photo, Shelly Sterling sits with her husband, Donald Sterling, right, during the Los Angeles Clippers' NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons in Los Angeles. With a $2 billion sale of the Clippers hanging in the balance, a judge is set to determine Monday, June 30, 2014, if the terms of a family trust alone are enough to confirm Donald Sterling was properly removed as trustee and allow his estranged wife to sell the team without his consent.

Only final arguments and a ruling remain in the trial to determine whether Donald Sterling's estranged wife can sell the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion.

in Sports

Paul McGinley pulls out of PGA Championship with injury

Paul McGinley of Ireland laughs during a news conference after being named the European Ryder Cup captain at the St. REgis in Saadiyat Islands in Abu Dhabi on January 15, 2013.

European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley has pulled out of the PGA Championship with a shoulder injury.

in National

Dollar Tree to buy Family Dollar for $8.5 billion

FILE - In this Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2005, file photo, customers walk past a Family Dollar store at Hickory Grove Market in Charlotte, N.C. Dollar Tree is buying rival discount store Family Dollar in a cash-and-stock deal valued at about $8.5 billion, the companies announced Monday, July 28, 2014.

Discount store chain Dollar Tree Inc offered to buy rival Family Dollar Stores Inc for about $8.5 billion.

in Sports

South African Tim Clark wins Canadian Open

Tim Clark tees off the 12th hole during the third round of the RBC Canadian Open at Royal Montreal GC - Blue Course on July 26, 2014.

South African Tim Clark sank a six-foot par putt to beat American Jim Furyk by one stroke at the Canadian Open.