Dr. Tom Price, a Georgia Republican, acknowledges that today’s repeal vote is largely for show. With the Senate controlled by Democrats, Obamacare will likely remain on the books for at least the rest of this year. But House Republicans do not mind making a political statement, he tells me, since the stakes have changed since the lower chamber last voted on repeal. This afternoon’s roll call is the first House vote on Obamacare since the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act in late June, so reasserting the GOP’s commitment to full repeal is “appropriate.”
“It is a response to the angst of the American people about this law,” Price says. “The rules have changed. The Supreme Court said that it is a tax, so the Commerce Clause provisions that the Democrats were hanging their hat on, well, that’s now a bridge too far.”
Since House Republicans took the majority in January 2011, GOP lawmakers have offered repeal-related legislation over 30 times, according to ABC News. But this is really only the second major repeal measure, following the initial repeal vote two years ago. To Price, it’s a natural time to stoke the debate. “You can’t get to replace until you get to repeal,” he reasons.
Should Republicans hold the majority in both the House and Senate next year, the party will repeal the entire bill, Price predicts, and then lawmakers will work on solving specific health-care problems, step by step — not via a comprehensive package. Price, the chairman of the House GOP’s policy committee and a member of leadership, says limiting the federal government’s involvement in individual health-care decisions is the party’s first priority.
“We will not repeat the mistakes of the other side,” Price says. “We will not come out with a 2,700-page bill from on high and shove it down the throat of not just Congress, but of the American people. We want to proceed in a deliberate, rational, positive, bipartisan process. You can’t have bipartisanship without the ‘bi’ and the other side refuses to participate at this point. So repeal is the first step in replace and that’s what we’ve got to do.”
What about the uninsured? If repeal is enacted, many Americans will lose the coverage promised under Obamacare. “For the uninsured, we believe that there is a system that one could adopt,” Price says. “Imagine, if you will, a system that provides tax deductions, tax credits, and refundable tax credits so that every single American looks at their financial budget and says, ‘It makes more sense for me financially to have health coverage than not,’ and they’ll make the right decision. And the important thing about that is not just that they’d have the financial feasibility through our proposal to purchase that coverage, but it’s coverage that they want for themselves and for their families, not coverage that the government forces them to buy.”
And on Medicaid, Price is sympathetic to the governors who are saying “No, thanks” to Obamacare’s expansion. “The states ought to have absolute flexibility to devise a system that responds best to the needs of their population,” Price says. “I use my home state of Georgia as an example all the time as it relates to the Medicaid population. We had about 1.8–1.9 million individuals on Medicaid and two-thirds of those folks are healthy moms and kids. We could write a check in the state of Georgia for every single incident of care for those moms and kids that they desired and save hundreds of millions of dollars. Instead, what we do is force them into a system that doesn’t allow them to select the doctor that they need, that gives them substandard care oftentimes. If we were to have the flexibility — and that’s against the law right now to do that — but if we were to have the flexibility, we’d be able to care for the sickest of the sick in that population in a much more responsive, quality way.”
Conservatives may cheer House Republicans, I say, but what about Mitt Romney, the GOP presidential nominee? Can he make as strong a case for repeal? “You know, what Governor Romney has done at the state level is precisely the flexibility that we, as conservatives, desire,” Price says. “If Massachusetts wants to go off and have any kind of program that they desire, then they ought to be able to do so without the federal government coming in and telling them what they can and can’t do. It’s not right for Georgia, it’s not right for Texas, it may not be right for any other state, but if it’s right for Massachusetts, then that’s our system — a system that allows the states to be the laboratories of democracy and enterprise. Governor Romney has never supported this kind of thing at the federal level. He has made that very clear. So yes, I think he can make the case very, very well.”
As the buzzer in his office rings, calling him to the floor, Price flashes a quick smile. “I’m the eternal optimist,” he says. “I think back to when Reagan won in 1980 and the incredible things that he was able to do with a Democratic Senate and a Democratic House. It’s all about leadership. And I believe that a President Romney would have the kind of leadership, the kind of skills that are necessary — the kind of inclusive bipartisan demeanor that will allow us to repeal this entire thing.”