By Elise Viebeck and Russell Berman - 04/24/13 05:47 PM EDT
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Wednesday his party is “forging ahead” with its ObamaCare bill despite opposition from conservative groups and some members of his conference.
The objections have raised questions about whether Republicans will have the votes to pass their measure, or whether they will have to delay a vote.
House Republican leaders refused to predict on Wednesday morning whether they could pass the bill, which the White House has threatened to veto.
Cantor deferred questions about the vote count to the whip, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who trotted out his usual reference to the film, “Fight Club.”
“Every time you ask this question, I give you the same answer,” McCarthy said. “The first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club.”
Wednesday's vote will be a major test of House GOP unity. The Club for Growth and other conservative groups have criticized the GOP bill and argue Republicans are seeking to prop up a bad program. House Democrats are broadly expected to oppose the vote, meaning Republicans can't afford too many defections if they hope to pass the measure.
Some conservatives have voiced frustrations that the House has not held a vote this year to repeal ObamaCare. They argue GOP freshman elected last year have not had a chance to vote down the law.
“The guys who have been up here the last two years, we can go home and say, listen, we voted 36 different times to repeal or replace ObamaCare. Tell me what the new guys are supposed to say?” second-term Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) said Wednesday at a forum sponsored by the Heritage Foundation.
Cantor said the bill was “the right thing to do,” and he sought to defend the proposal against attacks from both the left and the right.
Democrats who opposed the legislation in committee, he said, “voted against allowing for the access to insurance coverage for pre-existing condition patients.”
“That’s not something I think they can go home and be proud of,” Cantor said, before pitching the bill to conservatives as an assault on the 2010 healthcare law they want to repeal.
“We’re trying to find solutions here,” Cantor said. “We don’t believe in ObamaCare, and we want to stop ObamaCare. And the president issued a [statement] last night, said he would be veto the bill because he looked at it as a repeal of ObamaCare. But we want to stop ObamaCare, and that’s why we are going to the fund — the slush fund that [Health and Human Services] Secretary [Kathleen] Sebelius is using for the implementation of the bill and taking the monies from that fund to provide it for access to coverage for pre-existing condition patients. That’s the right thing to do.”
The House GOP bill — titled the Helping Sick Americans Now Act (H.R. 1549) — would reopen enrollment in the healthcare law's struggling insurance program for people with pre-existing conditions.
It would pay for the coverage with funds from the healthcare law's investments in public and preventive health, which Republican lawmakers have derided as a "slush fund."
The White House argues the preventive healthcare funds keep people from getting sick, and in doing so, reduce the nation's healthcare costs. By stripping funds for those programs, it argues, the GOP bill would weaken the nation's healthcare system.
"While the administration would like to extend coverage to as many Americans as possible, rather than finding common ground on a funding source, this legislation effectively would repeal part of the Affordable Care Act," the administration said in a statement of policy released late Tuesday.
"The Affordable Care Act created the Prevention and Public Health Fund to help prevent disease, detect it early, and manage conditions before they become severe," the White House stated Tuesday.
"By concentrating on the causes of chronic disease, the Fund helps more Americans stay healthy … This legislation effectively would eliminate the Prevention Fund for the next three years, forcing an end to key prevention programs it supports."
The Pre-Existing Conditions Insurance Plan (PCIP) was designed to temporarily cover vulnerable patients until 2014, when insurance companies will no longer be able to discriminate based on health status.
The program has struggled to pay its bills, and the Obama administration closed enrollment earlier this year, citing cost concerns.
H.R. 1549 will come to the House floor Wednesday. Two amendments will be debated.
This story was posted at 8 a.m. and updated at 1:47 p.m.