With the ink barely dry on the legislation, powerful conservative groups and prominent GOP lawmakers started lining up against House Republicans’ plan to replace Obamacare, even as President Donald Trump threw his support behind the legislation.
With little early defense from the White House, the groups issued sharply worded statements against the House GOP replacement bill, which would offer less generous insurance tax credits and phase out the law’s Medicaid expansion while striking its unpopular individual mandate penalty.
The Heritage Foundation’s advocacy arm called it “bad policy.” FreedomWorks panned it as “Obamacare-lite.” And the Club for Growth called it a “warmed-over substitute for government-run health care.”
Club for Growth, which is known for keeping scorecards gauging how conservative Republicans are, said it would “key vote” the bill. It dubbed it “RyanCare.” FreedomWorks, meanwhile, plans to launch a six-figure campaign against the legislation.
Despite the growing opposition, Trump himself endorsed the plan and predicted there would be “tremendous support” for it, claiming already that he’s “seeing it from everybody.”
“I think, really, that we’re going to have something that’s going to be much more understood and much more popular than people can even imagine,” Trump told lawmakers at the White House, adding that he’s “proud” to back the House plan.
Both Congress and the White House have marked April 7 as a target date for passage of their replacement plan, which Trump on Tuesday said he wants “very quickly” so Republicans can focus next on tax reform. The GOP’s Obamacare replacement, according to the president, will allow Americans to choose their doctor and their plan.
“And you know what the plan is. This is the plan,” he said. “And we’re gonna have a tremendous — I think we’re gonna have a tremendous success. It’s a complicated process, but actually it’s very simple. It’s called good health care.”
Reports of the president’s remarks emerged as a group of Republicans in Congress — including Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah — held a press conference outside the Capitol to voice their displeasure with House plan.
Conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus are also prepared to go to war over the current version of the House bill, potentially threatening to stall the president’s efforts in the House.
As the conservative backlash piled up earlier Tuesday, little help had initially emerged from the White House, beyond a flurry of tweets from Trump and a letter from Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price blessing the bill.
During the afternoon, however, Price offered less than a full-throated endorsement, calling the bill a “work in progress” before Trump chimed in with his much rosier outlook during a sit-down with the House deputy whip team, which will be responsible for tracking House Republicans’ support of the replacement plan.
With both the 2010 Affordable Care Act legislation and the much-thinner House GOP bill on a table beside him during a briefing with reporters at the White House, Price was asked whether the Trump administration supported the new health care proposal as rolled out on Monday. Price declined to offer the White House’s full support, telling reporters, “This is a work in progress and we’ll work with the house and the senate. It’s a legislative process that occurs.”
It was a more tempered response from Price, who in a letter to the committee chairmen who will hold the first markups of the bill this week, threw the weight of the Trump administration behind it, writing that “your proposals represent a necessary and important first step towards fulfilling our promises to the American people.”
The proposal has also come under attack from the political left, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi making public her letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan demanding answers to, among other questions, how many more or fewer Americans will be insured under the new GOP plan compared to the Affordable Care Act. Republicans across TV and radio news programs mostly left that question unanswered in a smattering of interviews on Tuesday, refusing to offer a figure as to the bill’s potential impact on the number of insured Americans.
In the wake of the legislation’s rollout, Trump promised Tuesday morning to soon roll out other elements of the GOP plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, just hours after House Republicans debuted the replacement bill.
“Don’t worry, getting rid of state lines, which will promote competition, will be in phase 2 & 3 of healthcare rollout. @foxandfriends,” Trump tweeted, as it appeared he was watching Fox News on Tuesday morning.
The president also said he is cranking away at a plan to improve drug prices, something the Republican bill, dubbed the “American Health Care Act,” did not directly address.
“I am working on a new system where there will be competition in the Drug Industry. Pricing for the American people will come way down!” he tweeted.
Trump also expressed optimism that his administration would be able to get in a new system relatively quickly, calling the House Republican bill a “wonderful” one.
“Our wonderful new Healthcare Bill is now out for review and negotiation. ObamaCare is a complete and total disaster – is imploding fast!” he wrote.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt Tuesday morning that he expects the American Health Care Act to be passed out of the House and sent to the Senate by the end of March. The Republicans have enough votes in both the Ways and Means Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee to move the bill to the House floor without incident, Brady said, and the goal will be to move the legislation to the Senate before it takes up the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.
The tweets from Trump seemed to be an acknowledgment that Republicans won’t be able to fully replace Obamacare through the relatively speedy budget reconciliation process and that instead, Republicans will have to address major lingering issues later in the year, likely with the help of Democrats.
Even the first attempt at legislation during Trump’s early presidency immediately ran into headwinds from Republicans skeptical of the plan. Looking to soothe the concerns of some of the bill’s more vocal GOP opponents, Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday morning that the legislation is likely to change as it makes its way through a “very open process on Capitol Hill.” White House press secretary Sean Spicer, too, emphasized that unlike Obamacare, which he said “was jammed down everybody’s throat,” the new House GOP bill can be read by the public and will be subject to transparency as it makes its way through the legislative process.
Price’s exchange with reporters came at the top of the daily White House press briefing, where the HHS secretary delivered a statement and took questions from the White House press corps. The former Georgia congressman described the bill as “being about patients. This is not about money,” and asked if the new health care legislation should be called TrumpCare, in the mold of its predecessor, Price said he would call the bill “patient care.”
Price expressed a willingness to work with the conservative groups who have thus far opposed the Obamacare replacement, echoing Pence by telling reporters that “this is the beginning of the process, and we look forward to working with them and others to make certain that again we come up with that process that aligns with the principles that we’ve defined.”
The aim of the new legislation will be to keep a promise made and broken by the Obama administration, that Americans will be able to keep the doctor and insurance plans they currently have if they like them. Where Obamacare pushed up premiums in some cases, Price said, the new legislation will push them down.
However, in a sign of how difficult it will be to get conservatives aboard, Heritage Action of America, the advocacy arm of The Heritage Foundation that has closely worked with the Trump White House on many issues, on Tuesday expressed deep reservations about the House bill.
“Many Americans seeking health insurance on the individual market will notice no significant difference between the Affordable Care Act (i.e., Obamacare) and the American Health Care Act,” Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham said. “That is bad politics and, more importantly, bad policy.”
FreedomWorks’ campaign against the legislation will include both digital and grassroots elements. Noah Wall, FreedomWorks’s national director of campaigns, said ads will appear both nationally and targeted in specific states and congressional districts. In addition to the ads, Wall said his organization will organize an “aggressive series” of rallies, office visits and town hall meetings to build and project its opposition to the legislation. Altogether, he said his organization expects to spend $250,000 over the next six weeks in opposing the bill.
“Fundamentally, as well, we think Republicans can do better. You know, we want to see 2015-style repeal and replace it with a bill that really, actually executes fundamental reform rather than taking the approach that the Republican leadership seems to be taking right now,” Wall said.
Wall said his organization is open to working with the White House and lawmakers on Capitol Hill on modifying the bill, but only as long as “they’re willing to make actual concessions and address” the group’s concerns. Of particular alarm for FreedomWorks are tax credits outlined in the proposed health care measure, which Wall described as “switching one entitlement program for another,” and a component that would allow insurers to charge a penalty for consumers whose coverage lapses, a provision he characterized as a “rebranded” individual mandate.
Wall said FreedomWorks is optimistic that its campaign will ultimately be successful in moving the GOP healthcare proposal in a direction more palatable to conservatives.
“We’re not saying that we’re not willing to work with leadership on this, we just need to make it very clear that the bill in its current form is absolutely unacceptable,” Wall said. “We’re really excited about the prospects of this campaign actually making a difference… Leadership has said, ‘expect the bill to change,’ and we hope to push them in the right direction.”
Nolan D. McCaskill contributed to this report.
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