UPDATE: Senator Cotton Backs Healthcare Repeal Without Replacement, Governor Disagrees

Jul 18, 2017

U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R).
Credit CSIS

U.S. Senator Tom Cotton is in favor of a Republican plan for a straightforward repeal of the Affordable Care Act without a replacement. Both of Arkansas's Republican senators, Cotton and John Boozman, have long favored ending the Affordable Care Act, but neither has spoken publicly about the now-flopped repeal and replace plan.

After the "disappointment" of the latest effort, Cotton says it's "prudent" to back a repeal without a replacement plan. Cotton spoke on conservative Little Rock talk radio station KARN Tuesday morning. He's backing Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's proposal to introduce a repeal provision similar to a 2015 bill passed by Congress that was vetoed by President Barack Obama. But under this plan the ACA draw down wouldn't begin until after the 2018 election. Cotton wants a replacement drawn up during the two-year gap, after repeal is decided and the election is held.

"If we can't develop a new system right away because they're too many disagreements within the Senate, I still think we need to put the marker down. We need to fulfill the promise in which we campaigned for four straight elections and then we can have another election," said Cotton. "It would allow us to reach the kind of consensus we need. It would also allow the American people to render their verdict on what they want from their healthcare system in the future."

The state's junior senator said it's incumbent upon Republicans to govern as a majority. He said it was difficult to thread the needle between Republicans to the right side of his party and more "liberal" Republicans. Cotton was one of 12 Republicans who crafted the failed proposal.

"I wish the four no votes on this bill, and maybe more will announce their opposition now that's its not moving forward, would at least have allowed us to start debate," said Cotton. "Healthcare is too important to too many Arkansas to simply drop it an move on to other issues."

But Governor Asa Hutchinson doesn't believe Congress should delay in crafting a replacement plan. Speaking Tuesday on CNN, the Republican said, "I've always advocated that if you're going to repeal it, let us know in the states where we're going so we can plan and have the stability in our delivery healthcare. That's very important."

The ACA allowed Arkansas to expand Medicaid through a hybrid program that provides coverage for more than 300,000 low-income people. He said a repeal without a replacement plan would disrupt the state's version of Medicaid expansion.

Hutchinson said he believes talks should resume on a replacement plan that can appeal to Democrats, rather than Republicans going it alone.

"We need to let the dust settle a little bit and some wise heads need to get together to figure out the direction," Hutchinson said. "What Democrats and Republicans agree upon is that what we have right now is not workable over the long term. It's costing too much, we need to have more accessibility. So I hope Democrats will come to the table. I hope they will participate."

While Senator Cotton backs reintroducing a 2015 straight repeal plan and figuring out its replacement at a later date, as recently as this January Cotton warned against repealing the Affordable Care Act without replacing it. Democrats nationally are already on the meme attack.

Despite Cotton's healthcare failure, political scientist Heather Yates at the University of Central Arkansas thinks Cotton will easily weather the political storm. He isn't even up for re-election in 2018.

"I don't anticipate there's going to be a lot of blame put on Tom Cotton on this. Because he's largely framing this as a few Republican Senators that have defected, or that they're hypocritical Republicans. The way he's framing it is going to deflect a lot of blame," said Yates."The average Arkansans won't place blame on him per se but the Republican Party overall."

Yates isn't sure Cotton's new approach, the straightforward repeal without replacement, has legs heading into 2018.

"Now that it's apparent the GOP, one party approach to healthcare reform is failed they are on radio blackout if you will," she said. "The Republicans have the House, they have the Senate, the White House and they have a failed reform agenda that they primarily campaigned on in 2016. Until they get a more unified message from the leadership we're not going to be hearing a lot from the Arkansas Senators. But we do see more public messaging coming from Senators that were either on the fence or outright opposed it."

2:02 p.m. This post has been updated with comments from Senator Cotton on KARN, Governor Asa Hutchinson on CNN, and from UCA political scientist Heather Yates.