Tierney Sneed contributed reporting.
Republican leaders boasted Tuesday that they are on the cusp of securing the votes needed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, though they have not yet scheduled a mark-up or a vote, and several high-profile members have defected over the past few days.
As leaders pressure and cajole the remaining holdouts to fall in line, several lawmakers confirmed that one argument they are using is an assurance that the Senate will strip out many of the bill’s most controversial provisions.
“I tell people not to get too worked up. If we do get it out of here, it’s going to the United States Senate, so don’t think it’s coming back here looking like it did when we sent it over,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), the vice chair of the powerful Rules Committee, told reporters. “I think people sweat these details way too much at this stage in the game.”
Cole said his message to GOP moderates—who are hesitant to back the bill due to its deep cuts to Medicaid and rollback of protections for people with pre-existing conditions—is: “If you want the pressure off, kick it over to the Senate and let those guys deal with it for a while.”
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), who chairs the Health subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, told TPM he has been making the same argument to moderates nervous about the impacts of the bill. “I know the senators love to tell us how much smarter they are and how bad our bill is and how much better it will be after they get to manage it,” he joked. “So I’m anxious for them to have their turn.”
“Let’s get it over to the Senate,” Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH) added. “It is not the final bill. It will go to the Senate, and it will be changed.”
Moderate Republican lawmakers lawmakers do not appear assuaged by these assurances.
“I’ve heard that argument,” Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA) confirmed to reporters Tuesday. Asked if he was buying it, he replied, “Who knows?” before disappearing into an elevator.
“I’ve been told we can’t do anything about the tax credit piece and we’ll have to let the Senate fix it,” Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), a prominent critic of the bill, told reporters this week. “We know this bill, in its current form, with or without the amendment or not, will be gutted in the Senate.” Dent says he would still vote against the bill in its current form.
And while tweaks in the Senate—such as making tax credits for low-income patients more generous—could win over some nervous moderates, it would turn off the hardline conservatives currently on board with the bill.
“They better not change it one iota,” Freedom Caucus member Rep. David Brat (R-VA) threatened Tuesday. “If they change it, you’re not going to have 218 [votes].”
“They’re always giving us their Byrd bath stuff,” Brat complained, referring to the Senate’s Byrd Rule that determines what legislation can pass on a simple majority vote. “It’s about time they get a dose of medicine.”
Senators on both sides of the aisle are not pleased with this line of argument either.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) told TPM that House members “need to fully consider” the bill and “not just defer to the Senate.”
Asked for his response to the argument that the Senate will fix all the problems in the House health care bill, Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) snapped, “That is total …” and appeared to suppress the desire to curse.
“Let me tell you, I don’t vote for things that may come,” he told TPM. “What you see is what you get. If you want the Senate to fix it, fix it in the House before you send it over to us.”
Vocalizing a fear of many House Republicans in swing districts, who will likely face tough reelection campaigns in 2018, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) warned that they will be judged for backing the health care bill no matter what changes are made further along in the process.
“If people vote for a bill that not only throws 24 million people off of health insurance and raises premiums but also allows states to do away with protections for pre-existing conditions, they’re going to be held accountable,” he said. “I would urge them not to vote for such a disastrous piece of legislation.”
Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.