A leading Senate Republican Wednesday used a courtesy hearing for Rep. Tom Price to become President-elect Donald Trump’s health secretary to lay down his marker on repeal of Obamacare, saying it cannot occur until the Republican-led Congress has a suitable replacement in hand.
As head of the Health and Human Services Department, Mr. Price would oversee an agency with a $1 trillion-plus budget and a wide array of responsibilities, from running government insurance programs for seniors and the poor to beating back the global health scares like Ebola and Zika.
Yet Mr. Price’s nomination has become an early proxy fight over GOP plans to repeal Obamacare — a push the congressman would oversee if he were confirmed as secretary.
Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander opened the Georgia Republican’s hearing by calling for simultaneous repeal and replace of the Affordable Care Act, saying Mr. Trump himself wants it that way.
“To me, that means at the same time,” Mr. Alexander, Tennessee Republican, said.
As it stands, GOP leaders have kickstarted a budget process that allows them to gut Obamacare while avoiding a Democratic filibuster, citing the program’s rising premiums and dwindling choices on its web-based exchanges. Yet the party is still coalescing around a firm replacement, causing the health sector and people who rely on President Obama’s law to become skittish, even as Republicans insist there will be a smooth transition to a new plan.
Republican leaders have increasingly said that repeal and replace will occur simultaneously, though they’ll have to rally conservatives itching for repeal around their as-yet-unspecified strategy, while convening Americans they have a better way that replaces federal mandates with market forces that empower states and consumers.
Mr. Alexander compared Obamacare to a failing local bridge that needs to be temporarily repaired so that new, better bridges can be built.
“Finally, when the new bridges are finished, you would close the old bridge,” he said.
Mr. Alexander noted that his panel was conducting a courtesy hearing” for Mr. Price, while the Senate Finance Committee will hold a more consequential confirmation hearing next week.
“We don’t vote on his nomination. They vote on his nomination,” he said.
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