Conservative chairman faces blowback over ObamaCare statement

Conservative chairman faces blowback over ObamaCare statement
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Several members of the Republican Study Committee (RSC) are upset with their new chairman, Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), for putting out a statement on behalf of the conservative group opposing a leaked draft of an ObamaCare repeal-and-replacement plan.

In an interview Tuesday, Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) said he approached Walker on Monday night on the House floor to decry Walker’s decision to release the statement using letterhead from the 172-member RSC.

“I asked him, ‘Are you speaking on behalf of the RSC or yourself?’ He said, ‘Myself.’ Well, I think it should have been done with no RSC letterhead, because he is the chairman of the RSC. As far as I’m concerned, [the statement suggested that] he’s speaking for me,” said Walberg, who sits on a committee that has a critical role in shaping the repeal-and-replace legislation.

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“I can’t speak that way yet. I want to see what the bill is. I sit on Energy and Commerce,” Walberg continued. “It puts me in a tough spot, and there are others who feel the same way.”

He pointed out that RSC members had not had an opportunity yet to debate or take a formal position on the draft legislation. The next RSC meeting is scheduled for Wednesday.

Another RSC member, who did not want to be identified, also lashed out at Walker, a Baptist preacher who just began his two-year term as RSC chairman in January.

“The RSC needs to be an important part of the repeal-and-replace effort, and the chairman issuing statements on RSC letterhead against outdated draft legislation is not the best way to accomplish that goal,” the RSC member said. 

“It makes the RSC look like we’d rather make headlines than be constructive in getting this legislation right and getting it on the president’s desk.”

A chief of staff to a third RSC member said the Walker statement caught members by surprise.

Former RSC Chairman Bill FloresBill FloresRyan transfers record M to House GOP's campaign arm in March Trump warns Republicans ahead of healthcare vote The Hill's Whip List: 36 GOP no votes on ObamaCare repeal plan MORE (R-Texas) said he planned to give some advice to his successor about when and how to issue statements from the RSC, the largest caucus on Capitol Hill.

“I never took a position on behalf of the RSC until I was pretty sure the RSC was there. You build consensus. … We have lunches every Wednesday. We’ve got a Steering Committee that’s essentially the board of directors,” Flores told The Hill. “And so by triangulating those things, you figure out what the position of the RSC was. If he had to do it again, I would hope he’d do it on his official letterhead and not [the] RSC's.

“The chair of the RSC is part of a lunch every week with the Speaker — that’s the venue to bring that up.”

RSC officials declined to comment for this story. 

The dust-up between Walker and some of his RSC membership is yet another example of GOP infighting as the party struggles to find a way forward on their top legislative priority: repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, former President Obama's signature healthcare law. 

In his RSC statement Monday night, Walker said he had “serious problems” with the GOP’s draft repeal-and-replacement bill that was leaked to media outlets last week. 

He specifically took issue with its use of refundable tax credits, something he panned as a “new health insurance entitlement.”

The draft bill “risks continuing major ObamaCare entitlement expansions and delays any reforms. It kicks the can down the road in the hope that a future Congress will have the political will and fiscal discipline to reduce spending that this Congress apparently lacks,” Walker said. “Worse still, the bill contains what increasingly appears to be a new health insurance entitlement with a Republican stamp on it."

"In that form and absent substantial changes,” Walker added, “I cannot vote for the bill and, in good conscience, cannot recommend RSC Members vote for it either."

— Updated 5:10 p.m.