Club for Growth splits with Cantor, opposes House GOP ObamaCare bill

The conservative Club for Growth is ignoring House GOP leadership and urging members to vote down a bill that would pump $4 billion into ObamaCare's temporary insurance program.

The group's vice president of government affairs, Andy Roth, wrote to lawmakers Thursday saying the bill from Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) would "further extend the federal government's role in healthcare."

"The Pre-Existing Conditions Insurance Plan (PCIP) is a program that even President Obama found to be too expensive," Roth wrote, promising to score next week's vote.

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"Fiscal conservatives should be squarely focused on repealing ObamaCare, not strengthening it by supporting the parts that are politically attractive."

GOP leaders have fast-tracked Pitts's bill, H.R. 1549, calling it a major component of their spring agenda.

The measure would use funds from the Affordable Care Act's public and preventive health efforts to reopen enrollment in the PCIP, a struggling program designed to cover vulnerable patients until 2014.

The effort marks the first time Republicans have tried to fix healthcare reform rather than repeal, dismantle or defund it.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Thursday that while the GOP remains committed to "full repeal," the Pitts bill will aid "America's most vulnerable patients."

He blamed the Obama administration for closing PCIP enrollment earlier this year due to cost concerns.

"Two months ago, the Obama administration abruptly announced the end of enrollment ... leaving thousands of Americans with pre-existing conditions without access to health insurance," Cantor said.

The GOP bill would extend enrollment in the PCIP through next year, when healthcare reform's major provisions take effect.

Starting Jan. 1, insurance companies can no longer discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, eliminating the need for high-risk pools.

Roth, with the Club for Growth, claimed Thursday that Pitts's measure would do "nothing to lower healthcare costs."

"If high-risk pools need to be established, they should be created and maintained at the state level with no interference from the federal government," he wrote to lawmakers.

In a surprise move, prominent Tea Party group FreedomWorks backed Cantor Thursday and called the bill's critics "misguided."

"H.R. 1549 gets ObamaCare opponents back on offense on the most important political issue of our time, healthcare," wrote FreedomWorks vice president of healthcare policy Dean Clancy in a blog post.

He added that the bill "gives the House a chance to talk about pre-ex pools," an important issue for the GOP.

"Sometimes cliches bear repeating: You can't beat something with nothing," Clancy wrote. "You have to say what you're for. People don't care what you know until they know that you care."

Pitts's bill was introduced Monday and passed the Energy and Commerce Committee in a 27-20 vote on Wednesday. The vote split on party lines.

—This post was last updated at 3:03 p.m. An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Andy Roth.