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Tax Writers Look to Pivot from Obamacare Repeal to Replacement

By Melanie Zanona, CQ Roll Call

February 2, 2016 -- House tax writers will move beyond efforts to repeal the 2010 health care law and begin crafting a GOP alternative this year, but details about what the plan would look like and whether Republicans will try to advance it through the legislative process have yet to be nailed down.

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady previewed the panel's 2016 agenda after its members attended a day-long retreat on Monday to debate and pinpoint their priorities. Brady said some areas of consensus include replacing the health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152), overhauling the tax code and advancing changes to the welfare system.

"We have a lot on our plate, and we're going to be strategic going forward," the Texas Republican told reporters Monday night.

Brady said one of his panel's top goals is to "offer an alternative to the very damaging Obamacare bill, and work with the other committees in doing so." A timeframe and details have yet to be determined by the conference, he said, but lawmakers will continue their discussions at a Thursday policy meeting and hope to build off their work from a GOP retreat last month.

In addition to Ways and Means, the Energy and Commerce and Education and the Workforce Committees are likely to take roles in establishing a replacement.

Assembling a health care proposal that Republicans can unite around has been an elusive task. Still, the GOP has repeatedly attempted to repeal the law – including a Tuesday vote in the House to override President Barack Obama's veto of a reconciliation bill (HR 3762) that would dismantle pillars of the health care overhaul. That effort is almost certain to fall short of the required two-thirds majority.

Backing a plan this year could help tamp down Democratic criticism that Republicans lack a concrete vision for an alternative. The move could also potentially lay the groundwork for the party's nominee for president.

Brady previously expressed interest in addressing Medicare plan design and revamping the payment system for hospitals and post-acute care. Although he reiterated his commitment to "improving the solvency of Medicare" on Monday, Brady stopped short of calling for immediate panel action on either issue.

"Last year, the bipartisan solution to solve the way we pay our doctors in Medicare was a critical first step," Brady said of efforts ( PL 114-10) to replace Medicare's oft-criticized physician payment formula. "This year, you're going to continue to see steps towards that solvency."

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