Lee was cutting against a rump of Republicans, including some party leaders, who had been trying to reframe repeal of the law as an attempt to “repair” it.
And in an interview aired in pieces on Fox News since Sunday, the president, who pledged as a candidate to repeal the ACA and replace it with “something terrific,” was looser about the timeline. “We’re going to be putting it in very soon,” Trump said. “I would like to say by the end of the year. At least the rudiments, but we should have something within a year into the following year.”
Lee, joined by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), both members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said that repeal had to happen much more quickly, and could happen without as much disruption as critics feared.
“We’re talking about repeal,” said Jordan, dismissing a bill backed by two Republican senators, Bill Cassidy (La.) and Susan Collins (Maine), that would allow the ACA to remain in place if states chose it. “We’re not talking about repairing it, not Cassidy-Collins, where if you like your Obamacare your state can keep it.”
Asked what Republicans could do to stabilize insurance markets in the wake of a quick repeal, Meadows had a two-word response.
“Repeal Obamacare,” said Meadows. “Repealing the Affordable Care Act would go a long way toward restoring ordinary markets.”
The conservatives said that the starting point for any next move on the ACA needed to be the 2015 budget reconciliation bill, the last that Congress has passed. At the time, aware that President Barack Obama would veto any effort to undo his signature law, Republicans used the bill to abolish the employer and individual mandates and scrap the “Cadillac tax” on some employer-sponsored plans. That bill would have wound down the ACA’s taxes over two years.
“It would be a huge mistake to ratchet that back down,” said Lee. “The chaos that the American people are facing right now is a result of the circumstances created by Obamacare. I wish there was a process that was not chaotic, that was easy.”
“The effective date should not be three or four years as our colleagues have talked about,” said Jordan.
Over the course of an hour, Lee and the others sometimes said that free markets would ameliorate the cost increases that Republicans had blamed on the ACA. (The average yearly increase of health-care plans has risen more slowly since the ACA was implemented than in the years before, although the cost has not declined as some Democrats promised.)
“You’ve got underwriters already figuring out what they need to do for enrollment this year,” said Meadows. “Looking at those in a transition phase is not as critical as working at them over a long amount of time.”
The conservatives were also confident that repealing “every tax, every mandate and every regulation,” in Jordan’s words, could be undone by the budget rules. And they were adamant that House Republican leaders, including Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), were making a mistake by trying to bundle repeal with a full replacement.
“I think that’s a horrible idea,” Lee said. “We need to repeal it first before deciding what comes next. … If we load down the repeal discussion with what comes next, it’s going to make it harder to get either of them done.”