NASHVILLE — U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., is under fire by Democrats and others for flip- flopping after the senator said he is backing a repeal of much of the Affordable Care Act with no immediate replacement for it.
The Chattanooga Republican said that, as a result of many discussions, he believes "the best path forward is for Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act after a reasonable transition period."
Passing the so-called repeal-and-delay measure, Corker argued in his statement, "takes us back to a level playing field where, by a date certain, all sides have incentive to work together to develop a health care replacement that can generate broad support and will stand the test of time."
He envisions a two-year delay.
But Tennessee Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Mancini and the U.S. Senate campaign of Democrat James Mackler were having none of it and quickly opened fire on Corker's abrupt shift.
"Now he is going back on everything he said less than six months ago," Mancini said Thursday. "Sen. Corker has been playing politics with Tennesseans' health care for years. When will he start putting the people of Tennessee over his political party and his political agenda?"
Mackler's campaign manager, Dave Hoffman, charged in a statement that "one party writing secret bills behind closed doors with zero hearings is exactly what putting politics first looks like. Tennesseans do not need more hollow words from Sen. Corker."
Tennessee's other Republican senator, Lamar Alexander, said in an emailed statement that he agreed with comments President Donald Trump has made about repealing and replacing major parts of the Affordable Care Act at the same time.
"I don't think Tennesseans would be comfortable with repealing first and then trusting Congress to figure out a replacement later," he said. "Most pilots like to know where they're going to land before they take off, and we should too."
Corker's shift came amid a tumultuous several weeks for congressional Republicans, especially in the Senate. Despite Republicans' 52-48 majority in the upper chamber, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has been unable to get the votes he needs from his own party members to proceed with Republicans' top priority since 2009 — the repeal of Obamacare.
President Donald Trump has since piled on, and as GOP Senate leaders sought to find any deal that could attract sufficient backing to pass, Corker bemoaned the situation in subsequent interviews with Washington-based reporters.
"It's almost becoming a bidding process — let's throw $50 billion here, let's throw $100 billion there," Corker said, according to The Associated Press. "It's making me uncomfortable right now. It's beginning to feel a lot like how Obamacare came together."
Meanwhile, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said McConnell's latest version would result in 22 million more Americans becoming uninsured by 2026 and fuel even more premium hikes for many older Americans.
Deductibles that those insured would have to pay before insurers kick in money on procedures would soar, according to the CBO.
On the House side, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., and fellow members of the lower chamber's hardline Freedom Caucus group of conservatives are pushing to put a straight repeal on the House floor, identical to one passed by both the GOP-controlled House and Senate back in 2015.
"I think the one thing that most people can agree on is that the ACA did not work as advertised," said the South Pittsburg physician, noting that "just sitting and waiting for it to fail is irresponsible."
People can't afford premiums, DesJarlais said. "I think the process is too far gone to repair. Sometimes if you build a house on a shaky foundation, it's hard to tear down."
Saying he was glad that Corker had come around to repeal, DesJarlais said GOP lawmakers shouldn't get "cold feet" on the issue.
"Quite honestly, I'd rather fall on the sword doing something rather than falling on the sword doing nothing," he said.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter at AndySher1.