Obamacare battle in Congress starts today with Pence visit

WASHINGTON – A day after Republicans began laying the groundwork for dismantling the Affordable Care Act, Vice President-elect Mike Pence will huddle with GOP lawmakers Wednesday to discuss strategy.

Democrats will be meeting at the same time with President Barack Obama about the best way to fight back.

“I think you can certainly anticipate that the president will encourage Democrats to focus on those aspects of the Affordable Care Act that are strongly supported in bipartisan fashion all across the country,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

Getting rid of Obamacare is a top GOP priority and Republicans started the process as soon as the new Congress convened Tuesday.

GOP lawmakers released a procedural blueprint that will allow them to avoid filibusters, as long as the party stays united.

“This is the first step toward relief for Americans struggling under Obamacare,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. “This resolution sets the stage for repeal followed by a stable transition to a better health care system.”

Democrats are counting on the fact that it will be harder for Republicans to come up with a replacement plan they can agree on than it was to promise an unspecified alternative.

“Want to know why they don’t have a replacement?” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday. “They don’t have the votes for a replacement.”

The American Medical Association warned congressional leaders Tuesday against making changes that would result in fewer people having health insurance. And the nation’s leading doctor’s group also said lawmakers should detail their proposed changes before making any moves that would affect coverage.

“Policymakers should lay out for the American people, in reasonable detail, what will replace current policies,” wrote Dr. James Madara, the group’s CEO and executive vice president.

House conservatives are eager to do that.

Members of the Republican Study Committee will release the latest version of their replacement proposal Wednesday.

Past plans have included ending the tax subsidies that help people purchase insurance through the health exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act, and ending the tax benefit of employer-provided insurance. Instead, taxpayers would get a tax deduction to help them by a plan.

The amount of federal funds states would receive for Medicaid – the jointly-funded federal and state health care program for the poor – would be capped, and coverage would come with a work requirement.

Those changes would likely reduce the number of people who have gained coverage after passage of the Affordable Care Act.

The Senate could begin debating Wednesday the budget blueprint, which calls for two House and two Senate committees to write legislation dismantling the Affordable Care Act by Jan. 27.

One-fourth of those surveyed after the November election by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation wanted lawmakers to repeal the entire law. An additional 17 percent wanted the law scaled back. Thirty percent said the law should be expanded and 19 percent like it the way it is.