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Senate GOP to move quickly to repeal health act; Schumer pushes back

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) at the Capitol on

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) at the Capitol on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016. On the future of the Affordable Care Act, Schumer promised a battle and told Republicans to "bring it on." Credit: Bloomberg / Andrew Harrer

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reaffirmed on Tuesday that the first order of business for Congress next year will be to take up the repeal of the Affordable Care Act — but Democrats said that’s a promise that will be hard to keep.

“When we come back Jan. 3, we’ll be moving to the Obamacare replacement resolution,” McConnell told the media-packed hall outside of the Senate chamber. “The Obamacare repeal resolution will be the first item up in the new year.”

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Policy Committee, said he hoped that Democrats would join in the effort to “provide relief for those suffering under the Obama health care law,” saying, “I would hope that the new minority leader works closely with us.”

But when Democrats took their turn talking to the media, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the next Senate minority leader, promised a battle and told Republicans to “bring it on.”

Schumer said Republicans don’t have a replacement for the health care law, so they are talking about repealing it and then postponing the repeal from going into effect for two to three years. And, he said, Republicans are divided about what to do about Obamacare.

“They have nothing to put in its place,” Schumer said. “And believe me, just repealing Obamacare — even though they have nothing to put in its place and saying they’ll do it sometime down the road — will cause huge calamity from one end of America to the other.”

Schumer said the House Freedom Caucus, which includes about 40 conservative Republicans, rejects the Senate’s plan to delay the repeal and demands passage of a complete repeal and then a replacement of the entire health law next year.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the Freedom Caucus chairman, told Politico in an interview Monday that a two- to three-year delay for implementing a replacement “will meet with majority resistance from Freedom Caucus members.”

The Republican intraparty clash over the health care law is not new.

In October 2015, the House Republican majority voted to strip away several major elements of the health care law but did not completely repeal it, prompting the Freedom Caucus and conservative Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), to oppose the measure.

The bill would have repealed individual and employer mandates, the medical device tax and a board designed to control Medicare spending. It also would have lowered the deficit, but would have increased the number of uninsured Americans by 16 million a year, a Congress Budget Office analysis said.

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