GOP leaders boost pressure amid health bill crunch time
Washington — Their top legislative priority dangling in peril, President Donald Trump and Republican leaders cajoled recalcitrant GOP lawmakers Wednesday to back their health care overhaul. A day ahead of a long-awaited House showdown roll call, conservatives insisted they had the votes to torpedo the measure and the number of lawmakers publicly expressing opposition snowballed.
Trump huddled at the White House with 18 lawmakers, a mix of supporters and opponents, Vice President Mike Pence saw around two dozen and House GOP leaders held countless talks with lawmakers at the Capitol. The sessions came as leaders rummaged for votes on a roll call they can ill afford to lose without wounding their clout for the rest of the GOP agenda.
Asked by reporters if he’d keep pushing a health overhaul if the House rejects the measure, Trump said, “We’ll see what happens.”
In a count by the Associated Press, at least 25 Republicans said they opposed the bill and others were leaning that way, enough to narrowly defeat the measure. The number was in constant flux amid eleventh-hour lobbying by the White House and GOP leaders.
Including vacancies and expected absentees, the bill would be defeated if 23 Republicans join all Democrats in voting “no.”
Most opponents were conservatives asserting that the GOP legislation demolishing former President Barack Obama’s health care law did not go far enough. They insist it must repeal the law’s requirements that insurers pay for specified services like maternity care and cover all comers, including the sickest, which they say drive up premiums.
Moderates were daunted by projections of 24 million Americans losing coverage in a decade and higher out-of-pocket costs for many low-income and older people, as predicted by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
For now, the White House and House leaders showed no sign of delaying their legislation, their initial attempt to deliver on a pledge to erase Obama’s law they’ve repeated since its 2010 enactment.
“There is no plan B. There is plan A and plan A, we’re going to get this done,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.
Underscoring the delicate pathway to victory, participants in the Pence meeting said there were no visible signs of weakened opposition and described one tense moment. Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, said White House chief strategist Steve Bannon told them: “We’ve got to do this. I know you don’t like it, but you have to vote for this.”
Some conservatives said that at the Pence meeting, White House officials discussed having the Senate amend the bill — if it reaches that chamber — by erasing the Obama law’s insurance coverage requirements that conservatives oppose. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said that had converted him into a supporter, but others were skeptical.
“There’s not enough votes to pass it tomorrow,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., leader of the House Freedom Caucus, the hard-line group that has spearheaded opposition to the GOP bill. Most of the group’s roughly three dozen members seemed opposed to the legislation, more than enough to defeat it.
The Republican legislation would halt Obama’s tax penalties against people who don’t buy coverage and cut the federal-state Medicaid program for low earners, which the statute expanded. It would provide tax credits to help people pay medical bills, though generally skimpier than the aid Obama’s statute provides. It also would allow insurers to charge older Americans more and repeal tax boosts the law imposed on high-income people and health industry companies.
Some Republicans were showing irritation at their party’s holdouts, all but accusing them of damaging the GOP.
The Rules Committee, usually tightly controlled by GOP leadership, was expected to let the chamber vote on revisions that top Republicans concocted to win votes. These include adding federal aid for older people and protecting upstate New York counties — but not Democratic-run New York City — from repaying the state billions of dollars for Medicaid costs.