The often-fractured Republicans, who hold a majority in the House,
ended a retreat outside of Washington on January 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
Republicans say Obamacare, passed in 2010, relies too heavily on
mandates and results in too much government interference in the
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
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."
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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
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
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