House Conservatives Draw Their Line On Obamacare, But With Wiggle Room

Tom Williams

A group of conservative House Republicans on Tuesday made explicit their preference for using 2015 Obamacare repeal legislation as the model for dismantling the Affordable Care Act this spring. That may be more of a negotiating position than a hardline stance, however.

The lawmakers weren’t ready to say if they would definitively vote against any repeal legislation that didn’t go as far as the 2015 bill. Nor did they rule out supporting replacement measures being added to that repeal legislation, though they had concerns that adding provisions to the 2015 bill was bogging down the repeal effort.

“The 2015 bill that we all voted for in both the House and the Senate is the floor,” Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) told reporters at the monthly Conversations with Conservatives. “If there's something else in there, we’ll take a look at that. But we don't want to be heading in the wrong direction.”

As Politico and the Huffington Post reported, the House Freedom Caucus, a group of 40-50 staunch conservatives who have held up Republican legislation in the past, officially endorsed a 2015 bill that had been vetoed by Barack Obama to be used for repealing the ACA under President Donald Trump. The legislation would dismantle the health care law's taxes, including its individual mandate, right away, but delay repeal of the ACA subsidies and Medicaid expansion for two years. This time around, some Republicans, particularly in the Senate, are fretting over nixing the taxes before they figure out how to pay for a replacement, and GOP lawmakers representing states that expanded Medicaid are raising concerns there too.

"You've got talk of keeping some taxes in place. You've got the Cassidy-Collins bill. You've got people talking about 'repair.' You've got people not including the defund Planned Parenthood language," said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), the former chair of the House Freedom Caucus, on Tuesday morning.

"So, in that context, we’re thinking at a minimum we should be able to put on President Trump's desk at least what we put on President Obama's desk, and that's the 2015 bill," he said. "So, frankly if you send that bill over as the repeal, it makes it sort of tough for senators not to vote for it, because they've already for it."

Perhaps the biggest question of all is how far along lawmakers intend to be with cobbling together a replacement plan by the time they vote on repealing the ACA. The Republicans in charge of writing the repeal legislation in the House have indicated they will try to put some replacement measures in the repeal legislation. But it's unclear whether the Senate parliamentarian would approve the inclusion of additional measures, as the so-called reconciliation process lawmakers are using for repeal is constrained to budget-related items.

House Freedom Caucus members said that in theory they weren’t opposed to the replacement provisions, such as Medicaid block grants or expanded health savings accounts, being floated. But they worried that including those provisions in repeal legislation would give lawmakers, particularly in the Senate, an excuse to jump ship.

“If you starting adding stuff to the Senate side, they might run off and become a 'no' vote, and then you're in trouble,” Rep. David Brat (R-VA) told reporters.

The conservative lawmakers stopped short of describing the 2015 bill as an end-all-be-all in their endorsement. Asked if they would vote against repeal legislation that didn’t meet that minimum, Jordan said, “We didn’t talk about that."

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) said that voting for a bill that kept Medicaid expansion in place would be “difficult,” but he didn’t want to rule out anything without seeing the full legislation.

“I want to wait to speculate for when I see a whole package, not just one-by-one," Labrador said. "Because there are some things that I would be really against, but that would be okay if they're in a package that is just a wonderful package."

Nevertheless, he and other hardliners weren’t particularly sympathetic to their GOP colleagues who are now calling for a slower, more tailored approach to repeal.

“Members of Congress are scared all the time," Labrador said. "They need to actually just lean in, move forward and do what they told the American people they were going to do.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.
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