Pence assures GOP lawmakers ObamaCare repeal is ‘first order of business’

Vice President-elect Mike Pence visited Capitol Hill on Wednesday to assure Republican lawmakers and voters that “the first order of business” for the incoming Donald Trump administration is to repeal ObamaCare. 

“It was a promise made on the campaign trail,” Pence said at a press conference with House Republicans. “The first order of business is to repeal and replace ObamaCare. And it needs to be done. … People voted for a better health care system, and we owe them that.”

pence_small Pence assures GOP lawmakers ObamaCare repeal is 'first order of business' GOP

Sources told Fox News that Pence told lawmakers in a meeting Wednesday morning that they hope to have a repeal bill on Trump’s desk by Feb. 20, one month after the inauguration.  

Pence spoke as President Obama huddled with fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill to strategize on ways to preserve at least parts of his signature health care law, a day after Republicans took their first step toward dismantling ObamaCare.

The separate sessions come on the second day of the new, GOP-led Congress.

In 16 days, Trump replaces Obama at the White House, putting the party’s longtime goal of annulling much of the 2010 health care overhaul within reach. 

But Trump, despite his campaign vows to repeal the law, warned his colleagues on Wednesday not to let Democrats off the hook for a program he called a “disaster.” 

trueit_small Pence assures GOP lawmakers ObamaCare repeal is 'first order of business' GOP

Plenty of questions remain as congressional Republicans push forward, including the repeal bill’s details, costs and when it would take effect. Republicans also face divisions over the next step — replacement legislation — that will likely take months or years to resolve. 

Senate Republicans took the first step as the 115th Congress opened on Tuesday, with Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., introducing a resolution that makes it easier for the Senate to approve repeal legislation and calls for four distinct committees to send over a legislative plan by Jan. 27. Likely targets include the law’s tax penalties for people who don’t obtain insurance, its requirement that many companies cover workers and tax increases on higher-earning individuals and many health care firms.

“Today, we take the first steps to repair the nation’s broken health care system, removing Washington from the equation and putting control back where it belongs: with patients, their families and their doctors,” Enzi, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said in a statement.

Enzi and other leaders of the Republican-controlled Congress are relying on a parliamentary maneuver known as “budget reconciliation” to dismantle the law because it avoids a Senate Democrat filibuster and requires only a 51-vote majority for passage in the chamber, not the 60-vote majority.

Republicans have a 52-to-48 member majority in the Senate and a 241-to-194 majority in the House, which requires only a simple majority for passage.

Trump won the 2016 White House race in part on a vow to repeal ObamaCare on “Day One” of his administration and to replace it with “something terrific.” But the dismantling process will be decidedly longer and more complicated.

While they can hardly prevent the GOP repeal effort from proceeding, the president and House and Senate Democrats were meeting Wednesday to discuss how to best defend a law that has extended health insurance coverage to 20 million Americans and which Obama considers one of the proudest pillars of his legacy.

“The more the people understand what’s included in the Affordable Care Act and how they benefit from it, the more popular the program is, and the harder it is for Republicans to have political support for tearing it down,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Tuesday.

Aware they have little chance of quickly agreeing on replacement legislation, Republicans plan to delay when their repeal would actually take effect. A range of 18 months to three years — perhaps longer — has been under discussion.

Trump has provided few specifics about how he would revamp the nation’s $3 trillion-a-year health care system. Steps he and congressional Republicans have mentioned include greater reliance on tax credits to help people afford coverage.

Republicans don’t want to abruptly end health care coverage for millions of voters who live in GOP-represented districts and states, or cause chaos in health care markets and prompt insurance companies to stop selling policies. So they are considering including provisions in their repeal bill to protect consumers and insurers during the transition period.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., a member of the GOP Senate leadership, said that could include money to temporarily continue helping people afford to buy coverage and language letting the Department of Health and Human Services help stabilize insurance markets.

“Everyone realizes there’s going to have to be a phase-in, phase-out period,” Thune said Tuesday.