ObamaCare repeal gains votes and momentum

Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Billy Long (R-Mo.) on Wednesday said they would support the GOP’s ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill with the addition of an amendment, giving the effort new momentum as GOP leaders push toward a floor vote.

The two Republicans made the announcement at the White House after meeting with President Trump.

"I think it is likely now to pass the House,” Upton said.

But Upton added he’s “not on the whip team” and can’t definitively say there are enough votes for it to pass.

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Both Upton and Long dealt a setback to the healthcare measure earlier this week, when they came out against it because they saidit failed to protect people with pre-existing conditions.

The new amendment from Upton would provide $8 billion over five years to help people with pre-existing conditions afford their premiums in states that are granted a waiver from ObamaCare’s protections.

The liberal Center for American Progress estimated on Tuesday that the high-risk pools are underfunded by much more: $200 billion over 10 years. 

The GOP bill already includes $130 billion over 10 years, which was not swaying many moderates as of Tuesday.

Upton himself said on Tuesday afternoon that more money for the high-risk pools “does not do the trick,” but he appeared to have a change of heart on Wednesday.

GOP leaders are whipping aggressively in favor of the healthcare bill in hopes of holding a vote before a one-week recess.

Upton said votes in the House Rules Committee, which would set up debate of the bill on the floor, could be held as soon as Thursday.

If the House votes on the bill this week, there would not be time for a new Congressional Budget Office analysis of Upton's changes or of an amendment from Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) that won over the House Freedom Caucus.

The MacArthur amendment set off moderates' concerns in the first place. It allows states to waive ObamaCare protections that prevent people from being charged higher premiums based on their health. If those were repealed, insurers could go back to charging exorbitant premiums to sick people, which could put coverage out of reach for many. 

Supporters of the bill argue high-risk pools could fill the gap, and note that people with pre-existing conditions would still be protected if they had no gaps in coverage.  

So far, though, no lawmakers other than Upton and Long have publicly changed their position due to the amendment. Members of the moderate Tuesday Group discussed the changes at a Wednesday meeting that included House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.).

Leaving that meeting, no lawmaker said they had changed their position. Rep. John Faso (R-N.Y.) said he was still undecided and studying the changes. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) declined to comment when asked if he was still undecided.

Centrist Reps. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) and Ryan Costello (R-Pa.) said Wednesday they are still opposed to the bill even after the changes.  

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) said in a statement Wednesday he could support the bill “if House leadership will work to tighten protections for those with pre-existing conditions.”

GOP Reps. Barbara Comstock (Va.), Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), Dan Donovan (N.Y.), Jaime Herrera BeutlerJaime Herrera BeutlerThe Hill's Latina Leaders to Watch CNN launches new digital series on 'badass women of Washington' CNN honors Feinstein, Chao as ‘badass women of Washington’ MORE (Wash.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.) are all still opposed to the bill after the changes, their respective offices told The Hill on Wednesday. 

But in a key development for Republican leaders, the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus has indicated it will continue to back the bill with the Upton amendment as long as it contains only additional funds and no policy changes. 

On conservative host Hugh Hewitt's radio show Wednesday, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) praised Upton's efforts, calling his amendment something that "nobody has a problem with."

"Fred Upton identified something he thinks will make the bill better," Ryan said. "What we're doing is listening to our members, finding where that sweet spot of consensus is and driving there."

Illustrating the pressure from the White House, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney called for a vote on Fox News Wednesday morning. 

Mulvaney said that if he were Speaker of the House, "I’d probably go to the floor today, because it’s just that close."

The healthcare legislation was abruptly pulled from the House floor in late March after it became clear that a planned vote would have failed. 

The underlying bill also has several provisions some moderates object to, such as deep Medicaid cuts. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the overall legislation would result in 24 million more people becoming uninsured over a decade.

Democrats and some health policy experts have also raised concerns that $8 billion will not be enough to cover everyone with pre-existing conditions who would lose their insurance coverage.  

But Trump is hungry for a major legislative achievement after not securing one during his first 100 days in office, and the White House is in full court press to rally support behind the healthcare plan. 

After announcing he was a “no” vote, Long said Trump called him multiple times to plead for his support. "The president said, 'Billy, we really need you, we need you, man,’” the congressman said.  

Upton said he and Long went to the White House to sell Trump on their amendment. The Michigan lawmaker said during their meeting he read Trump his comments during a Bloomberg News interview in which he said the health bill “will be every bit as good on pre-existing conditions as ObamaCare." 

“I want him to keep that pledge,” Upton said. “This amendment allows that to happen.”

- Scott Wong contributed. Updated 3:21 p.m.