Republicans Plan To Gamble On Obamacare Repeal Vote Friday

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Maybe it was the bad headlines. Maybe it was just too complicated.

But on Thursday President Trump was done negotiating over Republicans’ Obamacare repeal bill. That was the message delivered to GOP House members in a basement conference room Thursday evening, where White House officials said their replacement bill, the American Health Care Act, would be brought to the floor, whether the conference had the votes to pass it or not.

“They just said that this was the deal and it’s not going to change,” Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN) told reporters after the conference meeting. “It sounds like it’s an ultimatum: this is the bill, what what we see is what we get, and tomorrow’s the vote.”

After seven years in which repealing the Affordable Care Act was the political raison d’etre for many Republicans, the House vote to finally do so will at best, pass a bill that has deeply divided its members and has not even been fully scored by the Congressional Budget Office. At worse, the vote will fail, and the repeal effort that has consumed the first 62 days of the Trump administration will go down in flames.

“This is a really big moment for us and hopefully we’ll rise to the occasion. You get one chance at something like this,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), an ally of GOP leadership, who added, that if it failed, “Then we demonstrate that we’re a great opposition party.”

“We were great opposition to Barack Obama, but stopping things isn’t what governing is about,” he said.

The decision came after House leaders embarrassingly had to delay plans to vote on the legislation Thursday, the seventh anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act. The latest fracture, after numerous debates had clogged up the effort, was over the push by conservatives to add to the bill a repeal of the ACA’s Essential Health Benefits, the 10 broad areas of coverage insurers are required to offer. The proposed change had spooked some of the moderates, while other conservatives wanted even more of Obamacare’s insurer mandates dismantled.

The bill coming to the floor Friday will include the repeal of the essential health benefits, as well as the provisions added earlier this week, according to a senior GOP staffer. The latter provisions had been scored by the CBO this week, but Republicans will be voting on the essential health benefits repeal without any sense of its impact.

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and other White House officials were present at the evening meeting with the conference.

Rules Committee Chair Pete Sessions (R-TX) told reporters that the message was a “rah-rah from the White House, and to bust a couple heads.”

“There are a number of factors and we are hopeful that this simply means, that, following the process that was followed, we think it got better and we hope that a deal is there,” Sessions said.

It is unclear if Republicans have the 216 votes they need to pass the bill, as in recent days the whip count has shown them well below that.

According to Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), some of previous no votes switched to yes in the conference, but when asked if the would have unified caucus Friday he said, “I sure hope so.”

“Or we will have the opportunity to watch a unified Democratic caucus impeach Donald Trump in two years in the majority,” he said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) delivered very brief remarks after the meeting and did not take questions.

“We have been promising the American people that we will repeal and replace this broken law because it’s collapsing and it’s failing families and tomorrow we’re proceeding,” he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.
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