Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said he is supportive of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s latest tactic to bring up a 2015 measure that repealed the Affordable Care Act and set a timeline for replacing it within two years, although he opposed that approach earlier this year.
His counterpart, Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., also supports a ‘repeal now, replace later’ tactic, but is prepared to work in a bipartisan fashion on a compromise.
In December 2015, 52 U.S. Senators – including Arkansas’ senators John Boozman and Tom Cotton – voted for the measure that was ultimately vetoed by President Barack Obama.
With two more GOP defections on Monday night (July 18), a stalled plan to repeal and replace the ACA lost its momentum. McConnell, R-Ky., said he would move forward with the 2015 plan that passed two years ago.
Cotton released a statement to Talk Business & Politics on Tuesday morning that said:
“The American health care system is still groaning under the weight of Obamacare and we can’t simply accept failure as an outcome. I am pleased that Senator McConnell has decided to move forward with the very bill to repeal Obamacare on which 49 Republican senators currently serving in the Senate supported just 18 months ago in December of 2015.”
The statement indicates Cotton would be supportive of the measure as he was in 2015. Arkansas’ junior senator was on national radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt’s program on Tuesday morning. He said that he expects 51 votes on the “repeal now, replace later” legislation, if all of the 2015 senators voted the same today.
“I don’t see how any Republican senator who voted just 18 months ago for this very piece of legislation could now flip-flop 18 months on with Obamacare still inflicting so much harm on Americans, and the fact that we campaigned on this for four straight elections,” said Cotton. “So I’m pleased to see that Senator McConnell, after much hard work trying to craft legislation that could win the votes of 50 senators, is now going to return a bill on, which, again, 49 Republican senators have already voted, and Luther Strange and John Kennedy will vote.”
Strange, who represents Alabama, and Kennedy, who represents Louisiana, are new Republicans to the U.S. Senate since the 2015 vote.
Cotton also suggested that a House GOP healthcare bill may not see any action in the Senate. He thinks the Senate version could be voted on by the House and sent to President Trump for signature.
“I’m not sure that it will go to a conference. Again, the vast majority of House Republicans voted for this very bill in December of 2015 as well,” he said. “I’m not sure if it’s the full 218, but I suspect it’s close enough that with the new House Republicans, that very same bill on which most of them voted in 2015 would pass as well.”
“So I believe that we’d be able to send this bill straight to the President for his signature. Now the phase-in is two years out, so you know, it repeals the legislation now, and then it gives us a couple of years to craft a solution. It also allows senators, congressmen in both parties to take their case to the American people. In 2018 will be another election, but maybe the most defining election in which the American people get to decide who they want to craft the long-term solutions for our health-care system,” said Cotton.
In a January 2017 interview on Meet the Press, Cotton said he was opposed to a “repeal without a replacement” strategy.
“I think it would not be the right path for us to repeal Obamacare without laying a path forward,” Cotton told Meet the Press host Chuck Todd. “I think when we repeal Obamacare, we need to have the solution in place moving forward.”
Cotton also said in the interview, “I don’t think we can just repeal Obamacare and say we’re going to get the answer two years from now.”
By midday on Tuesday (July 18), at least three GOP Senators said they opposed the “repeal now, replace later” concept, effectively dooming a path forward for the plan. However, that development did not seem to deter Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., who issued a statement this afternoon that supports the ‘repeal now, replace later’ position:
“It’s clear that an agreement on the proposed legislation to repeal and immediately replace Obamacare is not in the cards. That should not be taken as an indicator that our commitment to provide relief to the millions of Americans who have been hurt by Obamacare has weakened by any means. Americans deserve a system that ensures access to affordable, quality care for all and we intend to make that a reality. I support the Majority Leader’s decision to move forward with a repeal of Obamacare with a transition period, so we can work together to replace this failed program with market-based solutions that will bring the changes that Obamacare, and all its broken promises, simply cannot deliver.”
In a one-on-one interview with Talk Business & Politics, Boozman expounded on his views. He wants to vote to repeal the healthcare law now, but extend the expiration date of the repeal to “at most” two years.
“We’ve tried to come to an agreement and that simply hasn’t worked out. So I do support going ahead and having a vote with a situation where we do repeal Obamacare, but then have a transition period through [Senate] committees and a variety of ways like that, trying to get both sides on board to actually come up with something that will be acceptable so we can get enough votes to get passed,” he said.
In essence, Boozman wants to use the two-year period to maintain the status quo while working on an alternative plan with Republicans and Democrats. Boozman said that he believes this approach would be stabilizing to the insurance industry.
“That will be two years of stability, at least. I think the insurance market will be comforted with the fact that both sides will be working very, very hard to come to an agreement,” he added. “They’ll know what to expect for the next two years… We’ll be repealing it, but the actual doing something different will occur in no longer than a two year period. I would be delighted if we could get something done in a few months, six months, whatever, those are just numbers. But for the next two years, it would be status quo. Repeal it now, but it doesn’t go into effect for two years.”
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a national interview with CNN that he thinks it’s time for a bipartisan approach to reforming healthcare.
“What Democrats and Republicans agree upon is that what we have right now is not workable over the long term. It’s costing too much. We need to have more accessibility,” he said. “I hope that the Democrats will come to the table, I hope that they will participate in the next stage of the solution because we’ve got to change, we’ve got to have that reform, and Democrats need to be at the table to accomplish that.”
Hutchinson released an official statement by mid-afternoon:
“My goal in recent weeks has been to help shape the national health-care debate on a repeal of Obamacare that is accompanied by a replacement bill that allows states like Arkansas to continue its reform efforts; assures access to affordable health-care coverage; and reduces the escalating costs of Medicaid in the future. As part of that debate, I have consistently said it is important to know where we are going with a replacement bill at the same time we repeal. Now it has been announced that the Senate bill does not have the votes. I look forward to discussing any future action with both Senator Boozman and Senator Cotton. They have provided significant help in getting changes in the Senate bill that are more favorable to Arkansas, and I am grateful for their support.
“Leaders from all parties agree that our nation’s current health-care system is clearly not working, and it is incumbent on us, as leaders, to find solutions to improve it. Democrats must join Republicans at the table and work to accomplish a solution to support sustainable health care in our nation. Governors, including myself, stand ready to partner with our colleagues in Congress in this effort.”