Centrists balk at GOP ObamaCare bill

GOP centrists in the House are fleeing from their party’s ObamaCare repeal-and-replace legislation, complicating White House efforts to win passage in a vote scheduled for Thursday.

Centrist defections in the last 24 hours include Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), the co-chairman of the moderate Tuesday Group, which has roughly 50 members.

Reps. Dan Donovan (R-N.Y.), David Young (R-Iowa), Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), all centrists, have also announced their opposition to the bill.  

{mosads}Reps. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) and John Katko (R-N.Y.), two other centrists, earlier announced their opposition.

That brings the number of centrist no votes to at least eight, though there could be more.

Republican leaders also face opposition from House conservatives, whom President Trump has been trying to bring on board.

But offers to the right to eliminate the “essential health benefits” — the coverage areas that insurers are required to provide under ObamaCare — could cost the GOP the votes of centrists while not winning over every conservative.

Rep. John Faso (R-N.Y.) expressed displeasure with the proposed removal of minimum insurance coverage requirements after leaving a Tuesday Group meeting on Thursday.

Faso had announced his support for the bill after the addition of a provision to prevent New York state from forcing counties to pay for part of Medicaid coverage.

Asked if removing the requirements changed his position, Faso said after a pause: “I’m not enthusiastic about that.”

Republican leaders can afford 22 defections and still pass their legislation, which all House Democrats are expected to oppose.

Centrists warn that their constituents would lose coverage under the repeal bill, and some have even said that ObamaCare is better than the Republican bill.

Even before GOP leaders talked about ending the essential health benefits requirement, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office had estimated that the bill could leave 14 million more people uninsured in its first year, and 24 million over a decade.

A group of centrists met with leadership in Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) office Wednesday night to discuss where they are on the legislation and their concerns.

“Everybody’s frustrated, but some moved, some stayed the same, and some got more equivocal,” said a GOP lawmaker who attended the meeting.

On repealing essential health benefits, the lawmaker said: “Some people in the room don’t know what that means, you don’t know what that means in the district. You don’t know what providers that’s going to impact. Some people just want to get it over to the Senate.”

LoBiondo, in a statement, went particularly far for a Republican, saying that ObamaCare is better than the GOP bill.

“Simply put, this bill does not meet the standards of what was promised; it is not as good as or better than what we currently have,” he said.

“Under the current proposal, many South Jersey residents would be left with financial hardship or without the coverage they now receive,” LoBiondo added.

The opposition from Dent, as a leader of the Tuesday Group, could also bring more centrists to oppose the bill.

“I believe this bill, in its current form, will lead to the loss of coverage and make insurance unaffordable for too many Americans, particularly for low-to-moderate income and older individuals,” Dent said in a statement Wednesday night.

Large price spikes for older and poorer people, due to less generous financial help in the GOP bill, have been a particular concern for many centrists and even some more conservative lawmakers.

Leaders agreed to add in roughly $85 billion in extra tax credits for those groups in the Senate, but an analysis from the Brookings Institution found that new money would make up for only about one-quarter of the reduction in subsidies due to repeal of ObamaCare.

Deep cuts to Medicaid in the GOP bill, and the end of ObamaCare’s expansion of the program, are also major sources of centrist objections.

“The overriding concern I have is the Medicaid expansion being significantly altered,” Smith, whose home state of New Jersey accepted the expansion, told the Asbury Park Press. “It affects so many of our disabled individuals and families, and the working poor.”

Many centrists remain undecided, including electorally vulnerable members such as Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.).

Scott Wong and Cristina Marcos contributed. 

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