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The election of President Donald Trump has given the Republican Party an opportunity it hasn’t had in a decade: control over both houses of Congress and the executive branch. For Western North Carolina’s congressional delegation, made up entirely of Republicans, that means a chance to shepherd previously unattainable conservative legislation into law and to roll back some of the hallmark laws signed by former President Barack Obama. The repeal of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is one of the delegation’s top priorities.
What remains to be seen is how successful Trump’s agenda is in making its way through Congress and whether Republicans will stay united behind his leadership. The president has signed several high-profile executive orders, most notably a travel ban on seven majority-Muslim nations and to begin the process of building more walls on the country’s southern border, but Congress has not yet taken a vote on any substantive legislation related to any of Trump’s campaign promises.
Carolina Public Press interviewed Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-Banner Elk, and Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-Denver, about their relationship with Trump, their opinion of his first weeks in office and their priorities given the new dynamic in Washington. Rep. Mark Meadows did not respond to emails and phone calls requesting an interview, as of press time. Meadows did, however, give an interview on the same topics to Smoky Mountain News the day before the inauguration, which sheds some light on his thoughts on these issues.
Obamacare repeal in the works
Trump started the process of gutting Obamacare shortly after his inauguration, with an executive order that directed some federal agencies to stop enforcing parts of the law. Trump’s administration also slashed the amount of advertising the government was paying for to promote enrollment in the program.
Republicans haven’t revealed what, if anything, they plan to replace Obamacare with, despite repeated calls to bring a vote to repeal the law to the floor in the coming months. Republicans have been debating whether to quickly repeal the law before a replacement has been finalized and simply delay the effects of the repeal for several years or to wait until a replacement law has been solidified.
An audio recording from a closed-door meeting at a Republican retreat in Philadelphia revealed some legislators’ concerns about repealing Obamacare and the effect that action could have on insurance markets.
Foxx said the experience of several constituents who saw their health insurance premiums rise and their coverage decrease since the passage of Obamacare informed her opposition to the law and her support for its repeal.
“In recent years, citizens from North Carolina — including working families, small business owners and education leaders — have expressed their frustrations and concerns with Obamacare,” she said. “… Working with the new Trump administration, Congress is taking the steps necessary to repeal the failed law and provide a pathway to better, more affordable care. We will provide step-by-step solutions that give working families more control and more options.”
McHenry, a vocal critic of Obamacare since its passage, said repealing the law would have a “significant impact” on WNC residents.
“The law has driven up healthcare costs for my constituents while leaving them with inferior care and fewer options for insurance,” he said.
Meadows told Smoky Mountain News that he’s seen four proposals for programs to replace Obamacare, and that it’s his hope that whatever becomes law won’t “(pull) the rug out from underneath people who have coverage” through the law.
“I can tell you that we’ve been working around the clock on a replacement plan, so I believe in and will firmly fight for a replacement to come alongside a repeal,” Meadows said.
Trump’s sweeping executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, signed on Friday, led to confusion about what the order actually meant and kicked off protests at airports around the country. The order closes U.S. borders to refugees for 120 days and places a 90-day ban on people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen traveling to the U.S.
The executive order drew tacit support from most congressional Republicans, but McHenry, when asked about the president’s executive orders in general, said closer cooperation between the Trump administration and Congress on large-scale orders like the travel ban could help avoid similar misunderstandings in the future.
“I’ve been largely supportive of President Trump’s executive actions thus far but I do have some concern about the frequent use of unilateral executive actions,” he said. “The best way to advance our shared policy goals is through the legislative process, not executive action that can be undone by future administrations and disregard Congress’s role as a co-equal branch of government. I also wish President Trump and his staff would work more closely with Congress as they draft executive actions to avoid confusion like what we saw this weekend with the immigration order.”