ObamaCare repeal: GOP seeks new game plan

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GOP lawmakers are expressing hope that a vote on legislation to repeal and replace ObamaCare can be held as soon as next week despite a severe divide in the conference that thwarted the White House’s hopes of holding a vote within President Trump’s first 100 days in office.

GOP leaders say they won’t call a vote until the new legislation has enough support to pass, and that new version appears to have lost the votes of centrists as it has gained endorsement from conservatives.

Some lawmakers are also discussing changes to the bill to help bring moderates on board. 

How to balance the demands of the two groups is a difficult task, and no one has found the right formula yet. 

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), co-chairman of the moderate Tuesday Group, said “it’d be hard” to design a bill that both he and the Freedom Caucus could support.

Dent also offered stark criticisms of the latest bill, which he saw as an “exercise in blame-shifting” to make centrists appear responsible for the failure to Trump instead of conservatives.

“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.”

Dent also raised a concern held by many moderate House Republicans that a vote to get the bill out of their chamber would be fruitless. Even if it passed it the House, he said, it would be blocked in the Senate.  

Conservatives on Friday held out hope that a vote could come soon.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said there are a “couple of back-up plans” to lower health insurance premiums if the current bill doesn’t get the support needed to pass.

He declined to say what they were, however, and emphasized he still wants the current bill to pass. Speaking on the House floor Friday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) did not raise hopes of a vote next week.

“I don’t have anything scheduled for next week,” he said of the healthcare bill. He added, though, that “as soon as possible, we will bring that bill to the floor.”

The new amendment from centrist Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), negotiated with Meadows, would allow states to apply for waivers to opt out of the ­ObamaCare provision that prohibits insurers from charging sicker customers more — a tactic called community rating. That could put coverage out of reach for many.

Conservatives argue community rating is driving up premiums for healthy people, and backers note that the amendment would still protect sick people from higher premiums if they had no gaps in coverage.

With the amendment, most of the roughly 30-member Freedom Caucus now supports the bill, but there are still at least 21 Republicans members — mostly moderates — who publicly oppose it, according to The Hill’s Whip List.

Republicans can only afford 22 defections.

Moderates like Dent said they disliked the changes made by the Meadows-MacArthur language.

Centrists such as Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who said he could support the repeal bill before the latest changes, said he was now undecided.

And other centrists, in addition to disliking the changes, have problems with the new bill that were never addressed by the Meadows-MacArthur talks.

Dent is concerned that the bill would effectively end ObamaCare’s expansion of Medicaid and lead to millions of people losing coverage.

Tuesday Group member Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), who supports the bill, said there are tweaks to the Medicaid language being discussed that could sway some more moderates toward yes.

“There are discussions about a couple of other tweaks that could occur on the Medicaid side to help in some extent without it being such a new issue that it would lose any votes,” Collins said.

MacArthur also told reporters Friday that he is open to changes to his amendment, but declined to provide details on those being discussed.

“I’m open to any good idea that gets us across the line,” he said.  

Republicans are getting antsy, however, waiting for a vote on the bill that was pulled from the floor a month ago due to lack of support.

“The next step needs to be taken. People have expected us to do this for a long time and it’s something that needs to get done,” said Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee.

He and other lawmakers are still expressing hope for a vote next week, despite the continued challenges.

“I believe they’re close. I believe that once they have the votes they’ll probably have the vote,” he said, adding that it’s “entirely possible” a vote happens next week.

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