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Obamacare replacement preoccupies GOP as budget votes near

Kellie Mejdrich and Paul M. Krawzak, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Health & Fitness

WASHINGTON -- Congressional Republicans' struggle to take the first step toward repealing and replacing the health care law using a fiscal 2017 budget resolution intensified Wednesday, as they debated how soon to roll out a replacement and defended their coordination with their incoming president.

President-elect Donald Trump suggested in a news conference Wednesday that repeal and replacement of President Barack Obama's health care law will occur simultaneously or nearly simultaneously. While that timetable appears to defy what Republicans in the House and Senate have set out to do, top Republicans and their aides insisted that the incoming president and Congress are not at odds and that repeal and replacement will succeed.

"We are going to be submitting, as soon as our secretary is approved, almost simultaneously, shortly thereafter, a plan," Trump said, referring to his pick for Health and Human Services secretary, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga.

"It'll be repeal, replace, it will be essentially simultaneously, it will be various segments, you understand, but will most likely the same day, or the same week, but probably the same day, could be the same hour," Trump added. "So we're going to do repeal and replace, very complicated stuff, and we're going to get a health bill passed, we're going to get health care taken care of in this country."

Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., the chief deputy whip, disputed that Trump's latest comments contradict lawmakers' plans, and McHenry predicted a detailed replacement plan will follow not long after repeal.

"We're going to have a repeal of Obamacare, which will pass the House, the Senate and get on the president's desk," he said. "The president will sign it. And as the president-elect said in his press conference today, they'll outline in detail once he has a secretary of Health and Human Services, once he's in office, once he can lay out the administrative actions and the legislative solutions they need to actually make a better health care marketplace and get better results for the American people and stop the disaster of Obamacare."

Referring to the budget resolution, McHenry said lawmakers "can do our part now in this opening act in Congress before the inauguration and I think we'll do it." He said the House has enough GOP votes to adopt the budget resolution, which greenlights the budget process that will be used for repeal in separate legislation.

When asked whether Trump was contradicting the schedule set out by the congressional GOP, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the messages regarding repeal and replace from the president-elect and the GOP Senate leader are the same. The aide pointed to remarks the Kentucky Republican made Tuesday.

McConnell said in response to questions about the repeal-and-replace timetable that "it'll be done in conjunction with the administration and the House, but the first step toward replacement is to repeal, and that step will be taken this week."

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said its still an "open question" whether there are enough votes to adopt the budget. But he added that if he were to handicap it, he would expect enough details of replacement will be provided to members ahead of the vote for leaders to obtain adoption of the budget. Meadows, R-N.C., said he and most members of the Freedom Caucus are still undecided but that a few whipped as "hard yes" or "hard no."

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