NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Conservatives gathering this week just outside of Washington have a message for Congress: Move faster.
Frustrated by the glacial pace on Capitol Hill, conservative leaders, governors and grassroots activists on Thursday scolded lawmakers for dragging their feet on ObamaCare repeal and replacement.
“I think they should have had a plan ready on Day One. They had eight years to think about this, eight years to negotiate with one another, and I just think there isn’t any excuse for it taking this long,” an exasperated Michael Greer, a Los Angeles-based Tea Party activist and blogger, said here at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
“Things are moving way too slowly. It’s about Congress; it’s not about Trump,” said Greer, whose son is a physician. “I think there are many in Congress who really don’t want to repeal it. Anytime you give an entitlement, it’s really hard to take away.”
Greer’s frustrations with Congress were echoed again and again at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, where Vice President Mike Pence will speak Thursday night and President Donald Trump will speak Friday.
Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint, who gave a rousing speech at CPAC on Thursday, suggested lawmakers might be able to get more done by canceling future congressional recesses like this week’s Presidents Day break.
“I think the Trump team is doing a good job. Congress has been moving too slow, too cautiously. They need to get some things done,” DeMint told The Hill after his speech. “The White House is way out in front of them. Congress has some catching up to do. They need to stop taking weekends and recesses right now.”
GOP leaders on the Hill have been assuring voters and the press that they’re right on schedule. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has argued that the pace will pick up on ObamaCare now that Tom Price has been confirmed as Trump’s Health and Human Services secretary.
Price is meeting with governors this week in Washington to discuss some of the thornier issues of repeal, including what to do with the millions of people who received health coverage under the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion program.
And lawmakers are hoping to hear more specifics from Trump next week when he gives his first major address to Congress in the House chamber.
Ryan has pledged that Republicans will unveil their budget reconciliation package — including ObamaCare repeal and some replacement elements — some time after this week’s recess. Trump has said to expect a proposal no later than mid-March.
But even Ryan’s predecessor, former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), has begun lowering expectations for the party. During a health conference in Florida, Boehnersaid congressional Republicans will “fix” ObamaCare but conceded full repeal and replacement is “not going to happen.”
Another complication: Hundreds of angry constituents are turning up at GOP town halls across the country this week, warning lawmakers to keep their hands off the current healthcare system.
Back at CPAC, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said he’d like repeal to move more quickly but also was sympathetic to his old friends in Congress. The former two-term senator blamed Democrats for slow-walking Trump’s Cabinet nominees and threatening to block the GOP’s 2017 agenda at every turn.
“I’m frustrated with the pace,” Brownback told reporters. “But you haven’t seen an opposition party act this way for the first 100 days.
“You [usually] get your honeymoon or at least a day or two, and Trump hasn’t had any, and that’s really slowed things down.”
Thomas Melvin, a retired school principal from North Charleston, S.C., agreed with Brownback.
“There’s a concerted effort to stop what Trump is doing. Trump has just started and they are not even giving him a chance,” said Melvin, who was sporting a red “USA, Make America Great Again” hat.
But he also issued a stern warning for lawmakers of both parties: “They need to get their act together. Otherwise the people might vote them out of office. They need to work with the president.”
The first month of the Trump presidency has seemed dizzying and chaotic at times, lacking a long-term strategy and broader vision. But conservative media personalities, like Fox News’s Sean Hannity and radio talk show host Mark Levin, have heaped praise on the new president — and chided Congress for failing to keep up.
“I don't think Congress is legislating ... They are on recess. Why are they on recess?” Levin asked in between photographs with a horde of fans. “You've got 100 days, four months, to really put your agenda forward before things unravel a little bit. That's why the first 100 days or so are so crucial.
“Where is the repeal of Obamacare? They are fighting with each other, the Republicans, over the replacement. They've only had seven years to figure this out,” he continued. “Where's the tax cut? They can't agree [but] they better start agreeing.”