“There is a sense of renewal,” remarked one House Republican, speaking on background to discuss the party’s private discussions. But, the member added, “We haven’t seen it in practice.”
For all the good feelings—McCarthy joked that Republicans would hold hands together while watching Thursday night’s presidential debate—the two chambers seemed to be on very different pages in terms of their plans for 2016. While House leaders and rank-and-file members discussed plans to release major policy proposals over the next year, Senate leadership strayed little from their focus on passing 12 appropriations spending bills, and doing not much else.
The contrast was on stark display during a session with McCarthy and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn and reporters Thursday. In discussing their plans for next year, particularly in the wake of their successful effort to send a repeal of the Affordable Care Act to President Obama’s desk this month, McCarthy emphasized the importance of the GOP providing its own alternative plan, referencing comments House Speaker Paul Ryan made last year vowing to at least outline a Republican health care proposal this year.
“We want to get one as soon as possible,” McCarthy said, of a health care alternative. “I think it’s very positive for us to do that, show the alternative, especially with what the American public has seen about Obamacare.”
But just seconds later, Cornyn said that individual Republican members had already released various health care plans and that he didn’t see the point in coalescing around a single alternative until a member of their party occupied the White House. “Until we are in a position of getting a president who will actually sign it—as we’ve seen on the repeal of Obamacare the president’s going to veto it—it’s really more of a hypothetical,” Cornyn said. “But the principles are very clear, it’s affordability, it’s affordability, it’s access. All the things that you’ve heard us talk about ever since the Obamacare debate.”
In a follow-up interview, Cornyn doubled-down, saying that in releasing a half-dozen disparate health care plans, Republicans had already outlined their thoughts on the issue for voters. “I would suggest we’ve told them time and time and time again,” Cornyn said. “We’ve not been in a circumstance where we’ve had a president who would sign anything. So we really haven’t come to the point where we have to unify around a particular bill.”
Asked whether voters deserved an agreed-upon outline of what the party would do to replace the Affordable Care Act before electing a Republican president to support it, Cornyn said: “Well, if they elect a Republican president then they will see it.”
In a sense, the comment flies in the face of the very message leaders are trying to give their members behind closed doors. During a Wednesday evening session, a group of GOP pollsters told members that voters trust Democrats on health-care issues by more than a dozen points, even though the health care law is unpopular. The implication was that Republicans need to propose an alternative to Obamacare in order to win the public’s trust on the issue, rather than merely pledging to repeal the law.