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Cruz calls for ‘clean repeal’ of ACA if Senate talks fall apart — aligning him with Trump, not McConnell

Sen. Ted Cruz answers a question at a town hall meeting in Austin on July 6. (Eric Gay/AP)

AUSTIN — Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said Thursday that he agrees with President Trump: If Republican senators are unable to pass a bill to repeal and replace key parts of the Affordable Care Act, the Senate should vote on a narrower bill to simply repeal the law and work on a replacement later.

“If we cannot bring the conference together and agree on repeal legislation, then I think President Trump’s absolutely right that we should pass a clean repeal,” Cruz told reporters.

Cruz said such a repeal should be delayed “either a year or two years” to give lawmakers time to work on a replacement.

Cruz made his comments after a town hall event here hosted by Concerned Veterans For America, a group backed by the conservative Koch brothers. The comments came the same day that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) leaned further into a very different kind of backup plan: working with Democrats on a more modest bill to stabilize insurance markets.

“If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement, then some kind of action with regard to the private health insurance market must occur,” McConnell said in Kentucky. “No action is not an alternative. We’ve got the insurance markets imploding all over the country, including in this state.”

McConnell says GOP must shore up ACA insurance markets if Senate bill dies

Last Friday, Trump tweeted: “If Republican Senators are unable to pass what they are working on now, they should immediately REPEAL, and then REPLACE at a later date!”

Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) have also embraced Trump’s call. But so far, there isn’t a broad appetite for a “clean repeal” among other Republican senators.

Republicans grow increasingly anxious about heading home without a health plan

Cruz, who has advocated for a “clean repeal” in the past, said he still believes the Senate can pass some version of the sweeping bill to repeal and replace the ACA that GOP leaders have been struggling to build support for in recent weeks. He is pushing an amendment to the measure to allow insurers to sell plans that don’t comply with ACA regulations provided they also offer a plan that does.

“I believe we can get to yes,” said Cruz. “I don’t know if we will.”

Critics have argued that Cruz’s idea could disrupt the risk pools established under the ACA and could force less healthy people to have to pay more for coverage.

Much of Thursday’s town hall focused on the GOP repeal and replace effort — but not by design. A man in the crowd engaged in a lengthy debate with the senator over the merits and drawbacks of it.

While many Republican senators have largely tried to stay out of the public’s view during the recess, Cruz, who is up for reelection next year, has been holding events across Texas. But the CVA town halls are more controlled than many typical lawmaker town halls, since a moderator screens the questions and steers the conversation toward veterans’ issue.