Incoming Republican Congress takes aim at Obama's health-care act

Members of the 115th U.S. Congress are sworn in, setting off an aggressive campaign by Republicans who control the House and Senate to dismantle eight years of President Barack Obama's Democratic policies.

Republicans introduce resolution allowing for repeal of Obamacare

President Barack Obama plans a rare trip to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to meet with congressional Democrats and discuss strategy for saving his health-care law. Vice-president-elect Mike Pence will meet with Republicans. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

Members of the 115th U.S. Congress were sworn in on Tuesday, setting off an aggressive campaign by Republicans who control the House and Senate to dismantle eight years of President Barack Obama's Democratic policies.

The first and biggest target is Obama's signature health-care law, which Republicans have long sought to gut and have blamed as a primary cause for a lacklustre economic recovery. 

Republican Senator Mike Enzi on Tuesday introduced a resolution allowing for the repeal of Obamacare, Enzi's office said in a statement. Republicans have said the repeal process could take months and developing replacement health insurance plans could take years.

The Republicans are using a budget resolution to provide for Obamacare's repeal, allowing them to act without any Democratic votes. Budget resolutions require a simple majority to pass in the Senate, instead of the 60 votes normally required to clear procedural hurdles. There are 52 Republicans in the 100-seat chamber.

The budget resolution contains so-called reconciliation instructions, directing committees to dismantle Obamacare as part of reconciling taxes and spending with the budget blueprint — and to report back to the budget committee by Jan. 27.

President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday encouraged a wholesale overhaul of the system, tweeting hours before the new Congress convenes "Obamacare just doesn't work," is unaffordable "and, it is lousy health care."

White House spokesman Josh Earnest defended the president's 2010 Affordable Care Act.

"If Republicans repeal the Affordable Care Act, they'll be hastening the demise of Medicare that millions of seniors rely upon for their basic health-care needs," he said at a news briefing.

Republicans back down on ethics panel

There were signs of Republican-on-Republican drama even before the new Congress officially opened on Tuesday. House Republicans on Monday night voted to defy their leaders and gut the chamber's independent ethics panel created in 2008 to probe charges of lawmaker misconduct after several corruption scandals sent members to prison. It was abandoned hours later after Trump criticized the move on Twitter.

Lawmakers would have had the final say on their colleagues under the change that was initially approved 199-74 over arguments from House Speaker Paul Ryan, McCarthy, and other Republican leaders. Some members said they have felt unfairly targeted by the independent panel, and Kellyanne Conway, a top adviser to Trump, said Tuesday on ABC that there had been "overzealousness" under the old system.

On Twitter, Trump questioned the move.

"With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it may be, their number one act and priority," he tweeted.

To keep Republicans in check

Democrats will try to block the far-reaching conservative agenda by swaying public opinion and using the power they have in the Senate to filibuster legislation. But that strategy has its political limitations. Twenty-three Senate Democrats are up for re-election in 2018, including 10 from states won by president-elect Donald Trump, and they could break ranks and side with the Republicans.

"What we will always do is hold the president-elect and his Republican colleagues in Congress accountable," Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer of New York said in prepared remarks Tuesday. "We will be a caucus that works to make sure the president-elect keeps his commitment to truly make America great, in its finest sense and tradition."

Pence meets with Chuck Schumer, Senate Democrat minority leader-elect, last November. Pence plans to meet with Congressional Republicans on Wednesday, while Schumer vowed to keep them in check. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

Obama plans a rare trip to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to meet with congressional Democrats and discuss strategy for saving the health-care law. Vice-President-elect Mike Pence will meet with Republicans.

The first week of the new Congress will be a preview of the hectic pace planned by Republicans. 

Majority Republicans also are targeting decades-old programs that millions of Americans rely on every day, such as Social Security and Medicare as they seek to shrink both the size of the federal budget and the bureaucracy in Washington.

"We have a lot to do — and a lot to undo," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a letter to fellow Republicans.

No 'conclusive evidence' of Russian hacking

Votes also are expected on resolutions to denounce the United Nations for condemning the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Republicans blasted the Obama administration for refusing to veto the decision. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, pledged "to reverse the damage done by this administration, and rebuild our alliance with Israel."

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, is scheduled to testify Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee on an intelligence community assessment that Russia interfered in the U.S. election by hacking into Democratic email accounts. Allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. political process will be examined by individual congressional committees, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has rejected a bipartisan call for a special, high-profile select panel to investigate.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is scheduled to testify Thursday on Russia's possible interference in the U.S. election. Trump's incoming press secretary said 'there doesn't seem to be conclusive evidence' of Russian responsibility. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

Obama last week slapped Russia with sweeping penalties over the hacking allegations, yet Trump has not publicly accepted the conclusion Moscow was behind the election year intrusions. Incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Monday on Fox News Channel's Fox & Friends that "there doesn't seem to be conclusive evidence" that the Russians were responsible.

Tax, environment law changes

The House is slated to vote Friday to certify Trump's victory in the presidential election over Democrat Hillary Clinton. She is the fifth presidential candidate to win the popular vote and lose the Electoral College. She received nearly 2.9 million more votes than Trump, according to an Associated Press analysis, giving her the largest popular vote margin of any losing presidential candidate and bringing renewed calls to abolish the Electoral College.

Other must-do items on the Republican agenda are an overhaul of the U.S. tax code. Conservatives also want to scuttle rules on the environment and undo financial regulations created in the aftermath of the 2008 economic meltdown, arguing they are too onerous for businesses to thrive.

Amid the busy legislative schedule, the Senate will exercise its advice and consent role and consider Trump's picks for his Cabinet.

With files from Reuters


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