WASHINGTON — Conservatives in the House hope to revive the failed effort to gut the Affordable Care Act with a long-shot drive to force Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to hold a vote to simply repeal the health care law without a replacement.
Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus want to seize control of the health care debate by petitioning Republicans to hold a vote on a version of a repeal bill that passed the House in 2015. Conservatives say they believe a repeal measure can pass without a replacement, despite warnings from Ryan and other leaders that the votes aren’t there. The long-shot effort gained momentum last week with support from influential outside groups.
Conservatives said Friday that nearly every House Republican has voted to repeal the ACA in the past — and should be challenged to cast the same vote again. The strategy they are using requires that a majority of the 434 members of the House sign a petition calling on Ryan to bring the bill to the floor. No Democrats are expected to sign the document, meaning that conservatives would have to win support from all but 22 of the 240 House Republicans.
A similar bill failed last month in the Senate, when 45 of the 52 Senate Republicans voted for the measure. Petition sponsor Rep. Thomas Garrett, R-Va., attributed the Senate failure in part to the view that a plain repeal bill could never pass the House. This new measure is meant to undermine that excuse.
“I want to saw the leg off the chair that says this can’t pass the House,” Garrett said in an interview.
Garrett said the petition is meant to give House Republicans an option — not to challenge Ryan and other leaders who say the bill can’t pass.
“It’s not meant to poke anybody in the eye,” Garrett said.
Ryan has not publicly addressed the petition, but AshLee Strong, a Ryan spokeswoman, said, “The House has already passed a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.”
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If successful, the petition would allow conservatives to bring their bill to the House floor for a vote without intervention from leadership. The legislation they have proposed would gut the majority of the ACA, ending Medicaid expansion, repealing the individual and employer mandates, ending protections for people with pre-existing conditions and banning funding to Planned Parenthood for one year. The legislation would not take effect until the end of 2018, to give lawmakers time to craft a replacement.
The proposal earned the praise of conservative activists. The influential Club for Growth on Friday announced plans to monitor how members vote on the petition — and to include the data in their score card, used to determine which members meet conservatives standards.
“It’s time to hold all House members accountable,” the group said in a statement. “It’s time to force a vote.”
Conservatives said they discussed the plan with Ryan before members left Washington for August recess. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said the speaker didn’t dissuade members from making the attempt but questioned whether they would succeed.
“He doesn’t think there are the votes there,” Jordan said in an interview. “I don’t think he was doing cartwheels.”
Jordan said he believes that more House Republicans will sign on to force the vote after they return from spending six weeks back in their home districts and talking to voters who are angry that they did not fulfill their promise to overhaul Obamacare. Jordan said he was met with immense frustration when he returned to Ohio. He said many Republicans are experiencing similar pressure.
“Voters are frustrated, they are disappointed and they expect action,” Jordan said. “They ask, ‘Why don’t you act like you did when you were elected?’ “
That argument has already proved persuasive for some Republicans in the House, including Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker, R-N.C., who announced his support for the conservative plan Friday. The RSC represents the largest coalition of Republicans in the House. Walker endorsed the petition individually and not for the entire group.
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“Republicans already sent this bill to the president in 2016, and should do it again,” Walker said in a statement. “The only thing that changed since then is that with Donald Trump as president, this bill would actually be signed into law.”