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House Republicans reject Mitch McConnell's plan to 'move on' from Obamacare repeal

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Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said Obamacare repeal was "still on the table." (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Top House Republicans aren't giving up on Obamacare repeal next year, even though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he's ready to move on.

McConnell told NPR on Thursday that he thinks the Senate will “move on to other issues” instead of trying for repeal and replace in 2018. But several top conservatives in the House made it clear they wouldn't mind taking another shot.

“I still think there is enough bandwidth on the House side to get it done,” said Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., leader of the 170-member conservative Republican Study Committee.

The House was able to pass its own Obamacare repeal and replace bill in May, but the Senate couldn’t pass its own version in late July.

“Sen. McConnell didn’t want to do a lot of things but we still got a lot of things done,” Walker said in a dig at the majority leader.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., also said Obamacare repeal was “still on the table.” He said President Trump and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. — who helped spearhead his own repeal bill with Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La. — are still on board for repealing the healthcare law.

“I think he is probably just being pragmatic, knowing he has only got 51 votes,” said Meadows, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, in reference to McConnell’s comments.

The GOP’s Senate majority will shrink next year from 52-48 to 51-49 when Democrat Doug Jones from Alabama gets seated.

McConnell referenced the narrower majority when talking about Obamacare repeal.

"We'll have to take a look at what that looks like with a 51-49 Senate," he told NPR. “But I think we'll probably move on to other issues."

But Meadows said that Republicans can’t abandon going after Obamacare repeal.

“To accept defeat when we have health insurance premiums going up each and every day, and I get more complaints about insurance premiums than anything else, inaction is not an option,” he said.

It remains unclear what avenue House Republicans would use to bring up repeal again. Republicans would have to use a tool called reconciliation to approve the bill in the Senate with only 51 votes instead of the 60 needed to stop a filibuster.

But reconciliation comes with certain restrictions. Any reconciliation bill must reduce the deficit and only focus on certain spending and budgetary issues.

A reconciliation bill must also start in the House, meaning the House would have to take the first swing at repeal that could face an uncertain fate in the Senate.

Republicans did get a victory over Obamacare when the tax reform bill passed Congress earlier this week. It includes repeal of the law’s individual mandate penalties that are meant to pressure people into complying with the requirement that everyone buy health insurance.

Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., said that was an important victory and that he didn’t want to go back to Obamacare repeal yet.

“That ship sailed. We repealed the individual mandate,” he added.

Collins noted that popularity for repealing Obamacare, which polled poorly when Republicans attempted it earlier this year, will rise as the law is imploding.

But there's little evidence of that so far. Signups on healthcare.gov — which is used by residents in 39 states to pick plans — were stronger than anticipated at 8.8 million. This doesn’t include figures from state-run Obamacare exchanges on the individual market.

The last open enrollment period on healthcare.gov, which lasted six weeks longer than this period, signed up 9.2 million people.

When asked about the high number of signups, Collins said the law is still shaky, and said higher deductibles that are forcing patients to cover more out-of-pocket costs.

“It is imploding before our own eyes,” he said. “Let the American public see how awful it is and then come back to us to fix it.”