Tom Price offers GOP a health care choice, but consensus is elusive

For nearly six years, Roswell Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Price has stood ready with an alternative to Obamacare.

He has yet to get a vote.

“Repeal and replace” has been the mantra of the GOP when it comes to the landmark health care law since it was passed, and Congress has taken plenty of votes on the former. But Republicans have been unable to agree on a replacement, and Price’s plan has been just one of several ideas.

Their hand could soon be forced by nine men and women in black robes across the street.

Price's vision, now shared by 63 Republican co-sponsors, is to tear down Obamacare's insurance "exchanges," mandates and minimum requirements for health plans. People would get tax credits based on how old they are to help them buy insurance on individual markets. The federal government would give grants to states to set up high-risk and reinsurance pools for those who cannot find insurance on the individual market.

There’s a lot more in there, but the aim of Price’s newly reintroduced bill is less federal intervention and spending on health care.

“It’s probably the broadest proposal on our side of the aisle to address the challenges we’ve got in health care, and it certainly incorporates what people say they want,” Price said.

For Obamacare boosters, a robust federal role is essential to rein in the health care market’s abuses, and they say that five years in, the GOP needs to learn to live with Obamacare — just like they have with other entitlement programs.

“They need to let Obamacare rest,” Atlanta Democratic U.S. Rep. David Scott said.

Repeal and replace remains a theoretical exercise while President Barack Obama is still in office, but so is much of the House GOP agenda. (A 20-week abortion ban, for example, faces a sure veto, but House Republicans toiled on a consensus version for months before passing it.)

Price, the House Budget Committee chairman, said he has not gotten the thumbs up from leadership on his bill.

“They are obviously concentrating on King v. Burwell,” Price said, pointing to the U.S. Supreme Court case presenting a more immediate health care conundrum in the coming weeks.

The court challenge asserts that the way the law is written, the federal government cannot pay out health insurance subsidies to states that do not set up their own exchanges. A ruling for the plaintiffs could boot 430,000 Georgians from their insurance plans, according to reporting by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Misty Williams.

Republicans in Congress are divided on how to step in, should chaos ensue.

One bill endorsed by Senate leaders and Georgia Republican U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue would extend the subsidies until 2017 while Congress works out a long-term plan.

Price thinks it’s a bad call.

“It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, when you have an opportunity to move in a direction of patient-centered health care and a better direction for patients, to continue a system that has clearly been destructive to both health care quality for patients as well as financial accessibility for patients,” Price said.

He's supporting what key committee chairmen in the more conservative House want, an "off ramp" from Obamacare. There are bills that would set up small group markets — rather than a statewide federal exchange — and provide tax credits for people to buy insurance.

While the Republicans can’t agree on a path, Democrats appear bereft of ideas if the Supreme Court rules against them.

The Obama administration has said it has no backup plan. Scott believes such a ruling would put pressure on Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal to set up his own exchange, even though state law bans it. Basically, it's a hope and a prayer.

Said Scott: “I want to keep thinking positive on it, give positive vibes out.”

A cardinal gets his wings

U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, a Republican from Ranger, last week pushed through his first bill as an appropriations subcommittee chairman, a post known around the Capitol as a “cardinal.”

Though he oversees the smallest and most overlooked of the 12 annual spending bills, with $3.3 billion to cover the legislative branch, the post is emblematic of a quick rise for the 45-year-old Graves, who was first elected in 2010.

Graves boasted of holding the line on overall legislative branch spending — increasing funding for the Capitol police while cutting funding for the architect of the Capitol. Congressional pay and office allowances remain frozen.

Ahead of the easy vote, Graves even got some kind words from his Democratic counterpart, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida. The Democratic National Committee chairwoman, Wasserman Schultz is typically found on television bashing Republicans. In this case, she found Graves “diligent and focused.”

Still, Wasserman Schultz voted against the bill, amid a larger dispute about overall spending caps.

Vote of the week

The U.S. Senate voted, 62-38, Thursday on a procedural motion to advance trade promotion authority for the president to negotiate trade deals.

Yes: U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; and David Perdue, R-Ga.

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