WASHINGTON -- Congressional Republicans pushing for a swift Obamacare repeal are sharply divided on whether to scrap Obamacare's tax provisions at the same time or delay that move until a replacement is ready.
Some conservatives say every part of the Affordable Care Act must go immediately -- including its tax-revenue streams -- because that's what voters were promised. But repealing the tax increases, which pay for the subsidies needed to help millions of Americans afford coverage, could make it politically impossible to pay for a replacement plan down the line.
The debate is a key stumbling block to GOP efforts to mount a lightning-strike bid to deliver on one of President-elect Donald Trump's main campaign promises. It's particularly acute in the Senate, where a repeal would be blocked if three Republican senators opposed it.
At least four GOP senators have expressed concerns about a repeal bill that delays a replacement, and others are concerned that the repeal bill may scrap the tax hikes prematurely.
Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who is working with Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas on a replacement, said the Obamacare taxes shouldn't be repealed up front -- and instead should be replaced as part of a tax overhaul later this year in a separate reconciliation package that would pair fewer tax breaks with lower rates.
"If we don't like 'em, we can replace them. But we can do it in a way where you overall are lowering tax rates and making the tax code more efficient. There will be enough there for people to win," he said.
Cassidy said if lawmakers start by repealing all of the taxes "then you're in a hole" when it comes to replacing the law later with an alternative that covers more people, costs less and doesn't add to the deficit. Most Republicans in Congress have signed pledges not to raise taxes, making raising enough revenue for a stand-alone replacement plan politically challenging.
"Terrible problem! You can't do it!" he said.
But that kind of delay won't satisfy some conservatives, particularly in the House.
"Repeal it, get rid of it, every single bit of it, don't keep any of it," Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio said during an interview this week on Bloomberg TV.