Policy

Democrats Won’t Make Obamacare Repeal Debates Easy

Lawmakers set to offer dozens of politically tough amendments in markups

Massachusetts Rep. Richard E. Neal, the ranking Democrat on House Ways and Means, says Democrats will be challenging the Republicans’ health care plan on issues like access and affordability during committee markups beginning Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

BY ERIN MERSHON AND JOE WILLIAMS

CQ ROLL CALL

House Democrats are gearing up to make Wednesday’s dueling health care committee debates as painful as possible for Republicans.

The minority members on two committees, Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce, will march to the concurrent markups of the new Republican plan to overhaul the 2010 health care law armed with dozens of politically tough amendments, staffers and outside groups told CQ Roll Call.

The strategy: force Republicans to vote against otherwise bipartisan issues, like a requirement that the legislation not force children off their health coverage or that the committee not consider any legislation that hadn’t been public for a certain period of time. Democrats will also drag out their speaking time. All 24 Democrats on the Energy and Commerce committee plan to give an opening statement Wednesday, a committee spokesman said.

Democrats don’t have the votes to block the legislation from advancing out of the committees and later moving as a combined package to the House floor. But they can try to make the process as lengthy and controversial as possible. One staffer said Ways and Means was already eyeing more than 75 amendments.

The Republicans on both committees will hold markups of their plan to repeal and replace parts of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law at the same time, beginning Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. House Republican leaders released the legislative text of their plan late Monday, about 40 hours before the separate markups are set to begin.

“When you have something as extensive as this is before us, it deserves a full hearing,” Ways and Means ranking Democrat Richard E. Neal said Tuesday. “We’re going to challenge them on the premise that they’ve guaranteed there will be no cutback in access. We’re going to challenge them based upon the plan they’ve tentatively presented, because that doesn’t square. We’re going to certainly challenge them on affordability.”

The same strategy will play out in other committees.

“We’re going to offer amendments to try to bring it back to what the ACA was or to improve it and eliminate some of these onerous things,” said Energy and Commerce ranking Democrat Frank Pallone Jr., referring to the health care law by its acronym. The New Jersey Democrat called the markup a “vehicle to point out [how] most people would lose coverage under their bill.”

Even in a separate Education and the Workforce Committee markup Wednesday on other health care legislation, Democrats plan to stall.

That panel will mark up three bills, which focus on the creation of association health plans, employee wellness plans, and protections for employers who finance their own insurance plans. Democrats on the committee hope to offer at least a dozen amendments during the markup.

Democratic aides said staff spent Monday night and Tuesday identifying the areas that would “show the American people where their true values really lie,” according to a Ways and Means Committee spokesman.

Highlighting potential harm

Several staffers on both committees suggested the amendments would center on the different groups Democrats believe the new plan will hurt. They will ask Republicans to vote on changes they argue would make the plan better for working families, seniors, women and people with disabilities, several aides said.

The current House Ways and Means language would offer less generous tax credits to older Americans in particular. It would also strip federal funding for the women’s health organization Planned Parenthood.

Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee are also likely to bring up amendments related to the proposal’s overhaul of the Medicaid program for low-income adults. The GOP plan would continue the law’s enhanced funding for the Medicaid expansion population, but would limit new enrollment after 2019 and, over time, would drastically cut federal funding for the overall program.

Moderate Republicans in both chambers have balked at the bill’s language on Planned Parenthood as well as its treatment of the Medicaid program.

Democrats are also eyeing amendments related to the GOP’s process for bringing the bills forward.

Democratic leaders, along with a number of Republicans, criticized the speed with which Republicans are asking the two committees to vote on the bills. Many members in both parties have also criticized party leaders for not waiting until the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has had time to enumerate how many people it thinks will maintain insurance coverage under the package or the proposal’s costs.

The chairmen of the two committees, Reps. Kevin Brady of Texas and Greg Walden of Oregon, could cut the markups short and call a relatively early vote on the matter. They also could recess the panels should the proceedings continue into the evening and restart them Thursday.

“Chairman Brady hopes that tomorrow’s markup focuses on substantive policy solutions, not politics,” a majority spokesman said. A majority spokeswoman for the Energy and Commerce committee did not comment.

Several outside groups confirmed that they are working with the committee staff to identify possible policy changes. One children’s health advocacy group sent almost three dozen potential amendments related to children’s health, such as language to ban states from putting especially sick children or newborns on Medicaid waiting lists. The advocates also suggested Democrats offer an amendment related to how the federal payments for Medicaid would grow over time.

The American Public Health Association said it had encouraged members to consider amendments that would block a Republican provision that eliminates the health care law’s Prevention and Public Health Fund, a pool of money set aside for public health initiatives.

Andrew Siddons and Kerry Young contributed to this report.

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