By JENNIFER HABERKORN | 6/11/14 5:29 PM EDT
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s shocking primary loss Tuesday night all but kills any chance of the House voting on an Obamacare replacement bill this year.
The prospects of Republicans rallying around a replacement policy and scheduling a vote was already an uphill endeavor — one that few expected to actually happen. After all, the House GOP had been trying to agree to a plan for several years already.
But the loss of the House leader who was most closely allied with the lawmakers seeking a vote is probably an insurmountable obstacle.
The fight over an Obamacare replacement is both ideological and tactical. The House Republicans are split on what policies should be part of any legislative package. And they disagree on whether they are better off going on record in favor of specific proposals before November or sticking to less-specific health reform principles.
Cantor sided with the group wanting a vote on a replacement plan, and he promised fellow Republicans earlier this year that the House would do it. The vote was meant to quell rising concern among rank-and-file members that they were against Obamacare but not for anything else.
“He’s the guy who made the commitment,” said Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), and a strong advocate of a House floor vote. “I mean, he’s not dead. He’ll be there until the end of the year. But I think that it lessens the chances.”
Cantor is expected to leave his leadership post at the end of July but serve out the remainder of his term.
When asked if Cantor’s loss kills chance of a vote, Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) said, “I sure hope not.”
“I want us to have a health care replacement bill on the floor before the fall elections. I think we really need to do that,” he said.
Many other top Republicans were wary of providing a specific health blueprint that Democrats — or even other Republicans — could tear apart when the GOP is confident it’s winning the Obamacare messaging battle.
Cantor’s departure “makes it much more of an uphill exercise [to bring] a bill to the floor that doesn’t offend people too much,” said Tom Miller, a resident fellow at AEI. “Clearly, there’s division in the ranks and [Majority Whip] Kevin McCarthy had a 10 foot pole with regards to taking votes on replacement legislation.”
The conservative wing of the Republican Conference — led by the Republican Study Committee — had growing interest in voting on a replacement. But at this point, there is no plan that would garner 218 votes. And if an Obamacare replacement is put on the floor and doesn’t get enough Republican votes, the result could be far more embarrassing than it is worth.
The debate over whether to do an Obamacare replacement bill could become more interesting if it becomes a data point in the battle to succeed Cantor as majority leader. In the immediate aftermath of the Cantor upset, it wasn’t clear whether conservative Republicans would base their support for a leadership candidate on whether that member supports holding a replacement vote.
House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, whose panel has broad jurisdiction over health policy and entitlements, declined to speculate Wednesday on how the defeat would affect the GOP efforts to agree on an Obamacare replacement plan.
“I will save that answer for another day,” he said. “There’s a lot of reasons why Eric lost, but I think everyone has to look at their own districts and see where things are.”
Cantor’s departure could affect other aspects of health care, too. Earlier this year he championed the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act, which took $12.6 million in funding for the political party conventions and sent it to the National Institutes of Health. It is designated to be spent on pediatric cancer research.
Natalie Villacorta contributed to this report.