New ObamaCare repeal bill on life support

Greg Nash

The tide is quickly turning against the new ObamaCare repeal legislation.

At least 21 Republicans have said they would vote no on the revised GOP healthcare bill negotiated by centrist Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) and conservative Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.).

Those “no” votes include Reps. Patrick Meehan (Pa.), Ryan Costello (Pa.), Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.) and John Katko (N.Y.), all centrists who had reservations about the previous ObamaCare repeal bill that was pulled from a floor vote last month because of a lack of GOP support.

{mosads}On top of that, a trio of usually reliable Republicans — Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (Calif.), Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.) — told the Hill that they were undecided on the new bill after saying they were yes votes on the earlier legislation.

“I’m absolutely undecided,” Diaz-Balart, a member of the GOP whip team, told The Hill. “I was a yes before, but there are a lot of red flags” with the revised bill.

It’s unclear how dozens of other Republicans would vote this time, but the number of Republicans publicly opposed or leaning against the bill is enough to raise doubts about whether the House would pass it in its current form.

Twenty-three GOP defections would be enough to kill House Republicans’ ObamaCare repeal-and-replacement plan, assuming every House Democrat votes against it.

Centrists opposed to the new bill are largely echoing Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), who said the negotiations between Meadows and MacArthur only exacerbated his earlier problems with the bill.

The legislation would allow states to opt out of some of ObamaCare’s requirements and could result in people losing their current health coverage or facing much higher premiums. Dent, in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Thursday, said he worried that people with pre-existing health conditions might be left without insurance because of the changes, something supporters of the bill have fiercely denied.

Many members of the centrist Tuesday Group members complained that the MacArthur-Meadows amendment pushed the bill too far to the right, and they privately griped that MacArthur had shifted blame for the stalled healthcare effort from conservatives to centrists.  

The changes seemed aimed at winning over conservatives — and those efforts proved successful.

The approximately 30-member House Freedom Caucus endorsed the new bill Wednesday after opposing the earlier legislation.

In the process, however, the new bill might have lost just as many centrists.

Vulnerable GOP Rep. Leonard Lance wouldn’t criticize his fellow New Jerseyan, MacArthur, but he there was nothing leadership could do to persuade him to support the revised bill.

“I might not use the phrase ‘given up,’ theologically or otherwise, [but] I believe the leadership knows where I stand on this issue,’” Lance told reporters.

GOP leaders are under pressure from the White House to hold a vote by President Trump’s 100th day in office, Saturday. But they say they won’t bring their revised bill to the floor until they secure the 216 needed GOP votes.

And right now, they acknowledge, they don’t have them.

“I think we’re making very good progress. … We’re going to go when we have the votes, but that’s the decision we’ll make when we have it,” Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters Thursday at his weekly news conference.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the Trump administration wants a healthcare vote “as soon as possible” but that the decision will be left to House and Senate leaders.

The GOP vote-counting team, led by Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), more or less knows where most members are on the bill, so they have not conducted a formal count during votes this week.

But they’ve been aggressively targeting specific members who are either on the fence or firm noes. Rep. Dan Webster (R-Fla.) said two senior whip team members approached him on the House floor this week and asked him what might persuade him to vote yes.

The conversation wasn’t a threat or a hard sell, Webster said. The whip team just wanted to hear his concerns with the bill. The Florida Republican explained that the legislation, despite being updated, still did not contain enough Medicaid funding for nursing home beds in his senior-heavy congressional district.

Conservative Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) is still a firm no on the bill but he said McHenry approached him on the floor Thursday as he searched for more votes.

“He said ‘I probably know how you’re going to vote but I’m going to ask you anyway,’” Jones recalled.

“I’m still voting no. I just cannot in good conscience vote for a bill of such importance and not know the cost of it,” added Jones, referring to the fact that it has not been scored by the Congressional Budget Office.

Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), a senior deputy whip, said his pitch to moderates to support the bill emphasized that passing it could allow Republicans to move on to other priorities.

“It’s the greater good, where we’re going to be after this, how we can move on to infrastructure, which is desperate in a lot of their districts, how we can move on to tax reform which is very needed,” Ross said in an interview in the Speaker’s lobby just off the floor.  

“When it goes over to the Senate who knows what it’s going to do, but we have to get it over there,” he added.

Such an argument may fall flat with members worried about how voting for the legislation might affect their reelection races next year.

Many vulnerable Republicans are running scared. One moderate Republican was overheard in a House cafeteria this week telling an aide: “If I vote for this healthcare bill, it will be the end of my career.”

There are also significant doubts about whether the legislation would go anywhere in the Senate.

Several Senate Republicans have raised questions about the bill, making it unclear whether it could win 50 votes in the upper chamber.

And Senate Democrats have said that parts of the bill, including the new language, would run afoul of special budget rules the GOP is using to avoid a filibuster. That means those sections might have to be ripped out of the bill to prevent it from being dead on arrival in the Senate.

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), a Tuesday Group member who already supported the healthcare legislation, said he’s tried to persuade skeptical Republicans in his state’s delegation that they have nothing to worry about with the new bill.

New York’s Democratic state leadership is unlikely to apply for the waivers the new measure would create.

“I’m just trying to soothe the waters to remind people that are afraid of their next election, they’re going to get attacked anyway even if their opponent makes it up,” Collins said.

Peter Sullivan, Cristina Marcos, Jessie Hellmann and Jordan Fabian contributed.

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