U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, said Wednesday that threats from fellow legislators to defund the Affordable Care Act are “nigh on impossible” to carry out.
“The problem is, anything in the current law that’s mandatory, you can’t just not fund it with appropriation bills unless you change the whole law, get it approved and the president signs it,” Roe said during a visit to the Johnson City Press between scheduled Town Hall meetings. “You’ve got mandatory spending parts of the Affordable Care Act and you’ve got appropriated money each year.
“A lot of the mandatory spending, like for instance the prevention fund, (U.S. Secretary of Health Kathleen) Sebelius is using that to help set up the exchange, but she’s allowed by law to do that,” he said.
Roe, no friend of the controversial health care law that has come to be know as Obamacare, said efforts to stall funding to its components would best be spent providing an alternative to the law.
Tasked by Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise to lead a committee do just that, Roe said a new health care reform bill should drop in the House in mid-September.
“We finished it week before last, and various advocacy groups have looked at it,” he said. “It starts with the same premise that Obamacare did, which is to lower costs and increase access. That’s absolutely what any health care bill ought to do.”
Roe said the draft bill isn’t quite ready for public scrutiny yet, but the basic structure is in place.
Other Republican lawmakers, including House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, have faced criticism in the last few weeks from conservative organizations for voicing doubts regarding plans espoused by fellow Congressmen to block or revise budget bills and potentially force a government shutdown until the health care law is defunded.
In July, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., called the campaign a “silly effort” and said those attempting it are trying to dodge important decisions that could shape the country’s spending.
Roe said the issue will likely re-emerge when Congress returns from its five-week break in September.
He said legislators will also tackle immigration reform and an increase in the nation’s debt ceiling, which he said will be increased.
“The debt ceiling will get raised, I’ll say that categorically right now,” he said. “There have been 17 government shutdowns since 1978 or so, and it’s been raised every time. So let me just say right now — the debt ceiling will be raised, and people out there can huff and puff and beat their chests, but it’s not going to make a difference.”
Roe said the lawmakers’ goal should be to accompany the increase with cuts to discretionary spending, similar to the Budget Control Act in 2011 that brought the sequestration in place today.
Unlike the sequester, which he called a “meat cleaver,” Roe said the accompanying cuts should be more surgical in nature.
“Discretionary spending is at 2008 levels, and that’s pretty good,” he said. “It’s pretty remarkable.”