When it comes to the Affordable Care Act, Republicans in Congress right now are a bundle of nerves.
As Obamacare’s supporters jam town-hall meetings across the country, GOP lawmakers in competitive states and districts are growing nervous about repealing the law without a replacement in hand. And conservatives in safer seats are getting nervous that their colleagues are losing their resolve.
“Members of Congress are scared. All the time,” Representative Raúl Labrador of Idaho told reporters on Tuesday, by way of explaining why the Republican-led Congress seems no closer to keeping its pledge of repealing Obamacare than it was the day after Donald Trump won the presidency in November.
Sensing that the momentum for full repeal was slipping, conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus and the Republican Study Committee—which together comprise the bulk of GOP lawmakers in the House—this week adopted a position that they would not support legislation that fell short of the bill Republicans passed in 2015 that repeals most, but not all, of the key provisions of the 2010 law. Then-President Barack Obama vetoed the bill, but with Trump in the White House, its path should be clear.
In drawing that line, conservatives wanted to send a message both to House and Senate leaders and to rank-and-file lawmakers who may be going wobbly: Let’s get on with it. “We believe we need to fulfill our promise we made to the American voters, which is we need to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said in an interview. The easiest move, Meadows said, is simply to vote on the same bill nearly all Republican members supported in the past—whether or not the party has agreed on the law that would replace it. “Allowing a long debate before a repeal vote is taken,” Meadows told me, “just postpones the difficult decisions that we all must make on what a replacement plan needs to look like.”