Paul Ryan pledges ACA repeal, replacement in 2017; Democrats urge caution

Document titled "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act"
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday that Republicans plan to have an ACA replacement bill ready this year. Image: Getty/Designer491

Republican leaders in Congress put up a unified front Thursday in support of their plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, promising replacement legislation will come this year. Democrats, meanwhile, continued to fight for the law on several fronts.

“Our legislating will occur this year,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said at his weekly briefing, in response to a question about the timing of ACA repeal and replacement legislation. He said the exact timeline, though, is still unclear.

Ryan also downplayed signs of dissent within the Republican ranks about repealing the law before deciding on a replacement plan, saying: “we’ve been planning for this for some time, and our members realize that.” Republicans, he said, are moving quickly to gut the law because it is rapidly failing and they want to “stop the damage from getting worse.”

“All the insurers tell us it’s going to get even worse in 2017,” he added.

The push to repeal large swaths of the law through budget reconciliation scored another victory Thursday when the House Freedom Caucus said it would support a budget measure that could swell the federal deficit to more than $1 trillion by the end of the decade in the interest of an ACA repeal, according to the Washington Post.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also held firm in the GOP’s commitment to a quick repeal. “We’re determined to live up to our promise to the American people and repeal this failed law,” then enact a replacement that costs less and works better, he said Thursday. As for Democrats, he said, “I hope they’ll work with us.”

Democrats push back

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., called for a different form of collaboration, urged his Republican colleagues to “sit down, and find solutions, and find improvements and find reform” rather than rushing to repeal the ACA.

It is vital that Americans know what Republicans’ plan is to replace the law before repealing it, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. added during debate on the Senate floor. To Republicans, he said, “Do not thrust millions of your countrymen and countrywomen off a cliff and shout promises at them as they fall.”

Kaine and his fellow Senate Democrats introduced an amendment Thursday that would have required Republicans to get 60 votes on an ACA repeal measure rather than a simple majority, but the Senate voted 52-48 along party lines to reject the amendment.

Obama, Trump weigh in

Echoing his fellow Democrats and a rising chorus of healthcare industry leaders, President Barack Obama warned against the dangers of repealing the ACA before replacing it in an op-ed published by the New England Journal of Medicine.

“This approach of ‘repeal first and replace later’ is, simply put, irresponsible—and could slowly bleed the healthcare system that all of us depend on,” he wrote. Such a strategy is particularly risky, he argued, since there might never be a second vote on a plan to replace the ACA.

“And if a second vote does not happen, tens of millions of Americans will be harmed,” he added.

President-elect Donald Trump, meanwhile, shared his views via Twitter, lashing out on Thursday at Sen. Chuck Schumer, who has emerged as a strong voice in opposition of Trump and congressional Republicans’ agenda.

But on Friday, he offered a more conciliatory tone, calling for both parties to work out a compromise on repealing and replacing the ACA.