WASHINGTON (CN) – President Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Mike Pence gathered their respective parties on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning to plot strategy in the looming congressional fight over the federal health care law.
After meeting for roughly an hour and half in an auditorium of the Capitol Visitor Center, Democrats from both the House and Senate emerged at around 11 a.m., projecting confidence that some of the portions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will survive Republican efforts to gut the law.
“We have a great deal of optimism that the good things that have happened in ACA are going to stay and that our Republican colleagues don’t quite know what to do, they’re like the dog who caught the bus,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters. “They can repeal but that have nothing to put in its place.”
The message from Democrats leaving the meeting attempted to put public pressure on Republicans prepared to repeal so-called Obamacare and pre-emptively lay the blame squarely on the GOP for any potentially negative consequences the repeal could bring.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., told reporters gathered outside the meeting that Democrats can use the power of their constituents to put pressure on Republicans to maintain as much of the law as possible.
“The president made, I think, a strong point that the individual provisions of the Affordable Care Act are popular, and that we know we’re right on policy,” Cardin said. “We have to be able to get this message out to the American people and that to repeal without a replacement is a position that Americans are not going to be satisfied with.”
Cardin said Democrats will continue to fight back against Republican efforts to repeal the law, but did not rule out negotiating with them on a replacement package.
“We will never walk away from the table,” Cardin said. “But we’re going to make it clear that if they try to repeal or continue to schedule a repeal without knowing the replacement that is a dangerous policy, one that we will have nothing to do with.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., made similar points, blasting Republicans for railing against Obamacare for seven years without putting forward an alternative.
“The president made it clear that the politics are on our side and that, when you look at most surveys, it shows that the American people do not want it repealed,” Cummings said. “They don’t mind it being improved, but they don’t want it repealed.”
Republicans seemed jovial after their meeting, an event for which members of the party have been preparing since 2010.
“We are starting today on our work to deliver relief to Americans struggling under Obamacare,” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said at a press conference. “We must remember this: This law has failed. Americans are struggling. The law is failing while we speak. We need to reverse the damage that has been done.”
Pence noted that the repeal of Obamacare will begin on Day 1 for President-elect Donald Trump, saying a combination of executive action and legislation will “ensure that an orderly and smooth transition to a market based health reform system is achieved.”
“Republicans must be careful in that the Dems own the failed ObamaCare disaster, with its poor coverage and massive premium increases like the 116% hike in Arizona,” Trump said. “Also, deductibles are so high that it is practically useless. Don’t let the Schumer clowns out of this web. [M]assive increases of ObamaCare will take place this year and Dems are to blame for the mess. It will fall of its own weight – be careful!”
Senate Republicans put their legislative plans to repeal Obamacare into motion on Tuesday, almost immediately after the new Congress convened for the first time. A resolution introduced by Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., will use the budget-reconciliation process to strip Obamacare of most of its force soon after Trump’s inauguration this month.
Enzi’s resolution does not have the specific details of how the repeal would work, but asks for a bill before Senate Budget Committee by Jan. 27.
The Senate agreed to move to the budget reconciliation process in a 51-48 vote Wednesday afternoon.
Budget reconciliation is an annual process lawmakers sometimes use to tackle controversial measures, such as Obamacare repeal, as it does not require the 60 votes it takes to move most other pieces of legislation through the Senate.
Republicans outnumber Democrats 52-48 in the Senate, meaning Democrats could block any attempt to repeal the law through a traditional piece of legislation. This makes the filibuster-proof reconciliation package the only truly viable method for Republicans to gut the law.