“Now [they] are saying we’re going to do repeal and replace but the bill does nothing of the sort,” Rep. Dave Brat said. | AP Photo. “This is Obamacare by a different form,” former Freedom Caucus chairman Jim Jordan told POLITICO.
A handful of House conservatives on Monday evening criticized GOP leaderships’ newly released Obamacare replacement bill, foreshadowing trouble for the repeal effort even after leaders tried to assuage the far-right.
Some House Freedom Caucus members dismissed the bill as creating a new “entitlement program” by offering health care tax credits to low-income Americans. A Republican Study Committee memo sent to chiefs of staff, obtained by POLITICO, echoed those comments and blasted the bill’s continuation of the Medicaid expansion for three years.
“This is Obamacare by a different form,” former Freedom Caucus chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told POLITICO. “They’re still keeping the taxes in place and Medicaid expansion, and they’re starting a new entitlement.”
Freedom Caucus member Dave Brat (R-Va.) piled on, telling POLITICO he’d vote against it in its current form because “the bill maintains many of the federal features including a new entitlement program as well as most of the insurance regulations.”
“Now [they] are saying we’re going to do repeal and replace but the bill does nothing of the sort,” he said. “[Speaker] Paul Ryan has always said the entire rationale for this bill is to bend the cost curve down, and so far I have seen no evidence that this bill will bring the cost curve down.”
His comments come just a few hours after Ryan and his top lieutenants publicly released their much-awaited Obamacare replacement plan. Two House committees will begin marking up the bill this week, and GOP leadership hopes to send the measure to the Senate in three weeks.
President Donald Trump signaled his support for the bill by tweeting a link to a Ryan statement about the proposal on Monday evening.
“House just introduced the bill to #RepealAndReplace #Obamacare,” he wrote. “Time to end this nightmare.”
House GOP leadership, meanwhile, is gearing up for a major effort to whip support for the bill. On Tuesday Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) will bring the deputy whip team to the White House in an effort to rally the troops — and begin some arm-twisting.
Leaders hoped to alleviate concerns expressed by the far-right over tax credits that will replace the current Obamacare subsides. The bill phases out the credit for individuals earning more than $75,000 and joint-filers up to $150,000.
It doesn’t appear to be enough though. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich) just minutes after the bill was released called the plan “Obamacare 2.0” on Twitter. And RSC policy staffers huddle Monday night to draft a memo detainee their concerns.
“This is a Republican welfare entitlement,” the RSC memo reads. “Writing checks to individuals to purchase insurance is, in principle, Obamacare. It does allow more choices for individuals, and is more patient-centered, but is fundamentally grounded on the idea that the federal government should fund insurance purchases.”
It is unclear if conservatives who still don’t like the bill would be willing to vote against it, potentially blocking the repeal effort from passage. While Brat said he’d vote against it, few others have taken a position yet. House Republican leaders expect some conservatives and moderates to oppose the measure on the floor. But they can only afford to lose 21 votes.
RSC chairman Mark Walker in a statement thanked leadership for their work on it and said “I applaud the movement and believe it is the right direction.”
“We are carefully reviewing this legislation looking in three main areas of shared conservative concern: protection of the unborn, elimination of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and ensuring the tax credits are fiscally responsible,” the North Carolina Republican said.
The RSC’s steering committee will meet Tuesday to discuss next steps forward.
Freedom Caucus members, meanwhile, talked amongst themselves about the bill. While many believed the final version was more to their liking than older drafts, one source wasn’t sure if conservatives could get on board with GOP’s plan to offer advanceable, refundable tax credits. Such credits are a key pillar of the Ryan plan and one of the most controversial issues for conservatives. They worry the plan will create an entitlement and have been pushing for a tax deduction instead.
Many other Republicans — from leadership to centrists to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price — believe such credits are necessary since the nation’s poorest don’t pay taxes and therefore wouldn’t benefit from a deduction.
In addition to criticism of the tax credit proposal, the RSC memo jabbed at the House’s plan to keep the Medicaid expansion for three years before winding down in 2020. The memo says the plan “continues to contribute to the worsening of the federal and state budgets by incentivizing states to maintain expansion or to initiate new expansions and leaving the federal government picking up the majority of the bill.”
Conservatives have been calling for House GOP leaders to advance a repeal-only bill that Congress sent to President Barack Obama’s desk in 2015. They worry getting into the repleacment details on the repeal bill is slowing the process.
Republican rank and file who support the plan find their demands ironic, in part because its conservatives like Sen. Rand Paul and HFC Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) who first called for repeal and replace to occur simultaneously. House GOP leadership in December had laid out a plan to pass a simple repeal bill early, then go back and replace it after. But Paul blasted the process, and conservatives in the Freedom Caucus agree that the two needed to happen at once.
A Paul’s interview on the topic had caught Trump’s attention, and the president eventually agreed they should be done together, forcing House GOP leadership to upend their plans. Now, however, conservatives want what they call a “clean” repeal bill, sans alternative provisions.
Speaking to Sean Hannity on Fox News Monday night, Meadows applauded leadership’s move to ditch a controversial pay-for that capped health care tax exclusions for employers. But he said “we really need to look at some amendments to make sure we get rid or some of the taxes.”
The bill extended for one year how long the Obamacare taxes would remain in place, in part to pay for part of the alternative.
“We’ve got to do better and hopefully with some amendments we can,” Meadows said, though he wouldn’t take a position on the proposal. “Will it lower health care costs and premiums for the people I serve? … Until we get that answer we’ve got to hold off judgment.”