Republicans start Obamacare repeal work, still uncertain on replacement

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Hours after President Obama came to the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to urge Democrats to do all they could to block GOP efforts to repeal his signature legislative achievement, the Senate voted 51-48 to take the first procedural step forward on a repeal effort, as Republican lawmakers flashed a variety of ideas – but no single plan – on how best to replace the system.

“The first order of business is to repeal and replace Obamacare,” said Vice President-Elect Mike Pence, as he met with Republicans in both the House and Senate on Wednesday.

But as reporters interviewed Republican lawmakers in the Congress on Wednesday, it was again apparent that while there are all sorts of ideas and plans on the GOP side – there is certainly no agreement on what’s next.

“That’s the tricky thing,” admitted Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK).

“I think it’s important to say, let’s repeal it, it’s done,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK). “At the end of day, we don’t have to have a replacement yet.”

“I’m hopeful that we can lay out those pieces on a step-by-step basis,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), the Chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, who play a big role in that effort.

Instead of waiting to see what Republican leaders devise, one group of GOP lawmakers in the House unveiled their own plan on Wednesday.

“In November, the American people spoke loud and clear,” said Rep. Bruce Babin (R-TX), as he and other GOP lawmakers urged action at an afternoon news conference.

The package from the House Republican Study Committee included expanded Medical Savings Accounts, allowing health insurance plans to be sold across state lines, as well as legal reforms that reduce the chances of malpractice lawsuits.

“Liability reform like this would yield savings of up to $65 billion over ten years,” said Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY).

Some GOP lawmakers even suggested that the Republican plan going forward should be to do nothing other than repeal Obamacare – in other words, let the market sort things out.

“When you deregulate industries and you allow competition, freedom of competition, good things happen for the consumers,” said Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-GA), a freshman Republican just sworn into office.

“Prices come down, innovation goes up,” Ferguson argued in an interview, drawing a parallel to how Americans went from a rotary dial phone on the kitchen wall to cell phones in our pockets.

Ferguson’s comments were a reminder that even among Republicans, there are wide variations in what lawmakers might – or might not accept – on repeal and replacement of the Obama health law.

Still, Republicans were optimistic that they would sort out their differences.

“When it all shakes out, Americans are going to be significantly better off,” said Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA).

As for Democrats, they mocked Republicans, arguing the GOP has had over six years to come up with their own plan, and still seems to be unsure of what to do.

“Repeal and replace has one thing going for it – alliteration,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.