With President Obama still in office, Republicans know repealing the Affordable Care Act is impossible. Instead, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) suggested a piecemeal approach to alter the health care law during a speech Tuesday to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce where he outlined the Senate Committee on Finances 2015 agenda.
Were going to continue to strike away at it, piece by piece if we have to, said Hatch, the committees chairman. In addition to legislation Hatch introduced last week to repeal the medical device tax, Hatch said he also plans to re-introduce a bill to repeal the employer mandate. Both are anti-job provisions, he said.
Defining full-time employees as those who work 30 hours a week is another part of the ACA that negatively affects jobs and the economy, Hatch said. On Jan. 8, the House passed a bill amending the definition to 40 hours a week, and its also on Hatchs to-do list.
I plan on having the Finance Committee work through these bills so that we can send them all to the presidents desk and have him try to explain to the American people why hes right and theyre wrong, he said.
The first order of business will be the Hire More Heroes Act, a bill the House passed that allows employers to exempt veterans who are already receiving health insurance from the employer mandate. This will be the first bill we markup in the Finance Committee.
Changing the ACA isnt enough, Hatch said, We need to work toward positive solutions of our own. Like the Patient Choice, Affordability, Responsibility and Empowerment (CARE) Act, which Hatch and Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) proposed last year as a replacement to the ACA. Our plan addresses the shortcomings of Obamacare head-on, expanding patient choice, curbing rising health costs and injecting market forces into our health care system, he said.
Republicans must agree on an alternative to the ACA, Hatch said, should the Supreme Court invalidate the rule that says consumers who sign up for insurance on the public marketplace can receive premium tax credits in states that havent established their own exchange.
Hatch wouldnt speculate on the outcome of King v. Burwell arguments will be heard in March and a decision is expected by June but Congress should be ready if the subsidies rule is overturned. Well need to act to mitigate the additional damage Obamacare will inflict on the health care system, he said.
Hatch listed a couple must-pass items, one of those being the Childrens Health Insurance Program, which expires in September. I am optimistic that we can work on a bipartisan, bicameral basis to extend CHIP in a responsible way, he said.
On March 1, Medicares Sustainable Growth Rate is set to expire. The formula is broken, Hatch said, and his goal is to address the SGR challenge once and for all.
Along with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security also need to bolstered, Hatch said. Were facing an unprecedented fiscal crisis in the coming years if we dont act to shore up our unsustainable entitlement programs.
With these programs, were talking about tens of trillions in unfunded liabilities, Hatch added. Our nations permanent fiscal health, not to mention our economy and the future of the safety net, stands in the balance. Everyone talks about entitlement reform, but few are willing to do anything about it. But, we cannot continue to kick the proverbial can down the road on this issue.
Pension reform is another priority Hatch said, citing the Secure Annuities for Employee Retirement Act. He also discussed the debt limit, oversight of the administration and the Tax Code. The latter is Hatchs top priority. Tax reform is long overdue, he said.
Hatch listed seven principles for tax reform:
1) Growth in the economy
6) Savings and investment
7) Revenue neutrality
At the beginning and end of Hatchs speech, he called his agenda ambitious, saying that we have to be ambitious if were going to do anything worthwhile.
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