GOP struggles to find ObamaCare repeal votes

GOP struggles to find ObamaCare repeal votes
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

The Republican bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare appears to lack sufficient votes to pass the House, despite hopes from GOP leaders and the White House that it might be approved by the lower chamber this week.

According to The Hill's whip list, 21 Republicans oppose the bill — the maximum number of GOP defections that can be afforded — assuming every Democrat also votes against it.

The latest Republican to announce his opposition is Rep. Billy Long (Mo.), a staunch conservative who often says he was “Tea Party before Tea Party was cool.”

He told The Hill he wouldn't support the bill because of the impact it could have on people with pre-existing conditions. 

“I have always stated that one of the few good things about ObamaCare is that people with pre-existing conditions would be covered,” Long said in a statement to The Hill. 

“The MacArthur amendment strips away any guarantee that pre-existing conditions would be covered and affordable.”

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An amendment authored by Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) would allow states to apply for waivers to two ObamaCare provisions: essential health benefits, which mandates what services insurers must cover, and community rating, which essentially bans insurers from charging people with pre-existing conditions more for coverage. 

While the American Health Care Act keeps an ObamaCare provision banning insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, allowing states to waiver out of community rating means insurers could charge sick people more. 

States that get that waiver would have to have a high-risk pool as a backstop for people priced out of coverage. But those pools, in the past, have seen waiting lists, high premiums and other issues. 

The Hill’s whip list includes some Republicans who were ready to vote for the bill before changes made the language backed by MacArthur and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

They include Reps. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) and Fred Upton (Mich.). 

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) went from being a yes on the bill to a no.

And four members of the GOP whip team, Reps. David Valadao (Calif.), Erik Paulsen (Minn.), Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) and Kevin YoderKevin YoderThe net neutrality fight is also about protecting your privacy online House pushes to require warrants for all emails with appropriations amendment Hillary Clinton looks for her role in midterms MORE (Kan.) are undecided on the bill.

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) told CNN that she's talked to centrist Republicans who say they won't back the bill because they don't like it and because they don't think it will be approved by the Senate even if it does pass the House. 

“They're being asked to walk the plank on a bill they know won't survive,” she said.

In another bad sign for the GOP’s whip count, Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney FrelinghuysenObama’s immigration legacy still hurting America Overnight Regulation: GOP takes aim at Endangered Species Act | DOJ expands asset seizures | FCC chief denies Trump interfered on Time Warner merger | Panel votes to ease driverless car regs Overnight Finance: Pressure builds for GOP on taxes | NAFTA talks to begin in August | DOJ expands asset seizure program | Regulator defends charters for financial tech firms MORE (R-N.J.) on Monday refused to say if it had his support. 

Frelinghuysen came out against the bill shortly before it was pulled from the floor last month and told reporters Monday he was “still looking” at the changes. 

“I'm focusing on the appropriations bill for 2017, so that's my focus,” he said. 

“My position is that I'm focused on the appropriations process, trying to get the bill across the finish line. I haven't been focused on anything else.”

Although Vice President Pence was on Capitol Hill on Monday seeking to sway Republicans, the White House acknowledged the American Health Care Act doesn't yet have the support to pass and wouldn't put a timeline on a vote. 

“We’re getting closer and closer every day, but we’re not there yet,” Spicer said when asked if there are enough votes in the House to put a bill on the floor.

A few Republicans are saying that a vote could be held this week.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), who is in the Freedom Caucus and is also a member of the GOP whip team, said the legislation has the votes to pass by a slim margin because the latest changes had moved some moderates from no to yes. 

He said a vote would “probably” happen this week and suggested that some lawmakers could be strong-armed into backing the new bill, as they would “rather be a no vote but if it needs their vote to pass then they'll support it.”

He said he is not privy to the official whip count but has “knowledge of individual votes that I've talked to plus a general feel for the way the House is.”

Barton offered no names, however, and Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a co-chairman of the moderate Tuesday Group, said Friday the amendment didn't move any moderates from no to yes. 

“I’m not aware of any members of the Tuesday Group who were a no and became a yes because of it,” he said.

“I suspect there were some who were maybe inclined to move in the other direction, either to undecided or a no. So, they didn’t pick up anybody from our group.”

If a bill is not approved by the House this week, it will significantly reduce the chances of ObamaCare repeal being approved at all. The House will go on recess next week, and lawmakers are moving on to tax reform and spending bills for next year.

Scott Wong and Peter Sullivan contributed