House and Senate conservatives are rebelling against a leaked draft of an Obamacare replacement bill, potentially stopping the proposal in its tracks before it’s even been officially introduced.
On Monday key conservative leaders huddled to discuss how to react to the House GOP’s plan, which would roll back much of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and replace subsidies for Obamacare’s insurance exchanges with tax credits. And one after another, they came out in opposition to the plan, culminating in a joint statement from three senators intended to demonstrate the proposed bill cannot pass the Senate.
“2 yrs ago, the GOP Congress voted to repeal Obamacare. That 2015 repeal language should be the floor, the bare minimum. #FullRepeal,” said Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, referring to a repeal bill that was vetoed by President Barack Obama.
Paul went on to call some GOP plans “Obamacare lite.” Republicans would likely need 50 of the 52 GOP senators to vote for a repeal-and-replace bill, so the trio could sink any proposal they dislike.
Paul, Lee and Cruz met with House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker (R-N.C.) on Monday as the party’s right flank tries to wrest control of the party’s meandering Obamacare debate, according to sources familiar with the meeting. Meadows and Walker both came out swinging against their colleagues’ plans on Monday. They worry the tax credits will become a new entitlement program and become riddled with abuse — though many Republicans in the Senate and House welcome the idea.
“There are still a number of issues to work out in terms of getting to a consensus,” Meadows told reporters Monday night. “We are all committed to getting to a consensus, and yet there are a lot of details that have to be worked out before we get there.”
Conservative opposition to the leaked bill has been brewing since the first week of February, when a group of Freedom Caucus and Republican Study Committee members huddled in New York for a retreat. They were joined by the arch-conservative Heritage Foundation, and attendees agreed GOP leadership was taking too long and should, therefore, just pass a 2015 repeal bill they sent President Barack Obama last Congress.
That bill, however, doesn’t include a replacement plan and so has met with resistance in leadership and Senate Republicans from states that have expanded Medicaid. GOP leadership forged ahead with their own blueprint, crafted by the Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce panels and shepherded by Speaker Paul Ryan.
But after they presented that to the House GOP conference the week before recess, conservatives felt sidelined and began to raise concerns. Over the weekend, conservative Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mark Sanford of South Carolina both appeared on TV to push back against leadership’s proposal. And on Monday, both Meadows and Walker issued statements saying they couldn’t support the current draft of the House bill.
“There are serious problems with what appears to be our current path to repeal and replace Obamacare,” Walker said in a statement. “In that form, and absent substantial changes, I cannot vote for the bill and, in good conscience, cannot recommend RSC members vote for it either.”
The harsh statement surprised a number of his colleagues. And some Republicans were perplexed that tax credits were leading to a new round of infighting from the right.
“Tax credits have long been a part of Republican health care plans, including the one authored by now-Secretary [Tom] Price that had broad support from members of the RSC and Freedom Caucus,” said a senior GOP aide.
The Republican feuding comes just hours before President Donald Trump addresses Congress and tries to unify the GOP to get behind Obamacare repeal. Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas said House GOP leadership in a private meeting told senior Republicans there was “consensus” with the White House on how to replace the law, but the devil, as always, is in the details, and it’s not clear where Trump stands.
Jennifer Haberkorn contributed to this report.