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Republicans Pressuring Boehner for Obamacare Alternative

U.S. Speaker John Boehner
The Tea Party movement is pushing House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, for an Obamacare alternative. Photographer: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

Republicans aligned with the small-government Tea Party movement are pushing House Speaker John Boehner for an Obamacare alternative, risking a split in party unity ahead of the November congressional election.

“We need to have a positive alternative,” Representative Tom Price, a Georgia Republican, said today at a Bloomberg Government breakfast in Washington. “If you’re not providing a contrast, then the American people are justified in saying: What’s your plan?”

Republicans have largely avoided political distractions this year from their focus on criticizing Democrats for President Barack Obama’s health-care law, and polls show the party is positioned to pick up seats in the November election.

Still, Republicans haven’t united behind a health-care alternative proposal, forcing House leaders to delay this month’s planned rollout.

Republican leaders are “working with members to make sure that we can coalesce around a real health-care reform plan,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, told reporters yesterday.

A Republican alternative should be voted on before lawmakers leave Washington for a monthlong recess in August, said Representative Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican aligned with the Tea Party.

‘August Recess’

“We want a bill brought to the floor,” he said in a brief interview yesterday in Washington. “You’ve got to look at the legislative calendar and realize that by the August recess, there aren’t many more days left. So whatever would have to happen, would need to happen before then.”

Opposition to Obamacare dominated Republican campaigns in 2010 and 2012 and promises to do so again this year, including in Senate campaigns as Republicans seek to take over majority control of that chamber.

A Gallup poll released April 7 showed that 15.6 percent of Americans have no health insurance, the lowest percentage since 2008 and an indication that Obamacare was “accomplishing its goal,” according to Gallup.

Republicans have held more than 50 votes to repeal, defund or roll back the health-care law since taking majority control of the House in 2011. While they haven’t come up with a unified plan to replace the law, several members have introduced measures that leaders have said will guide replacement plans.

‘Game Changer’

Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat in the chamber, said enrollment of 7.1 million people for coverage under Obamacare, matching initial estimates for signups, has been a “turning point.”

“Obamacare was a surrogate for people’s anguish and worry, and it was the only thing put in front of them for about six months,” Schumer told reporters yesterday. “These last few weeks have sort of been a game changer. And I think the day when Obamacare will be the only dominant message is over.”

Price, a former chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of the most conservative-leaning members in the House, said the party’s alternative plan will probably include the ability to buy health insurance across state lines, letting businesses pool together to buy insurance and expanding the use of health-savings accounts.

Price, an orthopedic surgeon, said Republican leaders are holding private meetings with members to assemble the proposal “as a group.” He said his preference is to release a plan by June or July.

“It’s important for the American people to know there are better ways to solve these challenges,” Price said.

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