Donald Trump on Tuesday urged Republicans in Congress to repeal Obamacare immediately and worry about a replacement plan later, during an interview with the New York Times. The president-elect’s recent request throws a wrench into the current debate within his own party over how to proceed with repealing President Obama’s signature health insurance legislation without having a viable replacement for it.
Trump, who didn’t seem to fully understand the timeline of how Congress passes laws, told the Times that Republican lawmakers could vote on repealing Obamacare “probably sometime next week” and that “the replace will be very quickly or simultaneously, very shortly thereafter.”
Trump’s line of thinking complicates the battle between squabbling Republicans who want to do away with Obamacare as quickly as possible but can’t agree what to replace it with or when. Drafting, let alone passing, another massive piece of healthcare legislation would likely take years, despite Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress and the White House. Yet if Congress repeals the act with no clear solution on the horizon, insurance companies would likely pull out from the government marketplace, leaving those currently covered with few health insurance options.
Currently, more than 12.5 million Americans are covered by health insurance through the Obamacare exchanges. And the number is only increasing; about 300,000 more people are covered now compared to this time last year. Repealing Obamacare, which would also impact Medicaid expansion, could cause as many as 22 million to lose their health insurance, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
To pass a “repeal and delay” plan — which would take away at least parts Obamacare and then wait for a solution — Republicans need 50 votes in the Senate to work around a Democratic filibuster, a House majority vote, and a signature from Trump. Consensus in the Senate, however, is rapidly crumbling. The Senate currently counts 52 Republican senators but three of them (in addition to all of their Democratic colleagues) have already backed away from “repeal and delay.” Republican Sens. Rand Paul, Lamar Alexander, and Tom Cotton all recently said they do not support repealing Obamacare until they can replace the act with another healthcare bill simultaneously.
An additional five Republican senators said this week they support extending the budget fight that marks the beginning of the repeal process until March, so they can figure out what the hell to do next. Lawmakers have until Jan. 27 to write a repeal bill, which could include replacement legislation.
Meanwhile in the House, Republicans seem to be pushing full steam ahead with a repeal vote even if they’re not sure what their version of a replacement will look like either. House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Tuesday he’s pushing for a repeal vote by Friday.
For his part, Trump didn’t seem worried about the realistic period of time between repealing Obamacare and passing new healthcare legislation. “Long to me would be weeks,” Trump told the Times. “It won’t be repeal and then two years later go in with another plan.” (That’s exactly what Ryan has proposed.)
Before the president-elect changed his mind, Sen. Paul said the two agreed on how to proceed. Paul tweeted Friday that he had just spoken to Trump and he “fully supports [his] plan to replace Obamacare the same day we repeal it. The time to act is now.”
Democrats, meanwhile, are not passing up the chance to capitalize on the chaos among the Republicans.
Repealing Obamacare without a clear alternative “is akin to shoving someone off the cliff and as they’re falling down, saying, ‘Don’t worry! We’re gonna figure this out before you get to the bottom,’” said New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @oliviaLbecker