GOP Leaders Still Looking For Votes On Obamacare Bill

The White House backed Medicaid work requirements and block grants Friday, but the changes might not be enough to get a bulk of conservatives to vote for the legislation.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of La. listens as President Donald Trump speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, March 7, 2017, during a meeting with the Republican House whip team about the proposed health bill.
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Erin Durkin, Daniel Newhauser and Alex Rogers
Add to Briefcase
Erin Durkin and Daniel Newhauser and Alex Rogers
March 17, 2017, 5:01 p.m.

It’s still not clear wheth­er GOP lead­ers will have enough votes to pass their Obama­care re­peal-and-re­place bill next week, even after Pres­id­ent Trump on Fri­day en­dorsed changes that would shift the bill fur­ther to the right.

Re­pub­lic­an Study Com­mit­tee Chair­man Mark Walk­er said the White House signed off on two changes to the Amer­ic­an Health Care Act: al­low­ing states to im­pose work re­quire­ments for Medi­caid be­ne­fi­ciar­ies; and al­low­ing them to re­ceive their fed­er­al Medi­caid fund­ing via a block grant, in­stead of the capped per-per­son pay­ments already in­cluded in the bill.

Ma­jor­ity Whip Steve Scal­ise said the changes would “add sig­ni­fic­antly” to their whip count, but didn’t say wheth­er he had the votes yet to pass the le­gis­la­tion. He also said Trump is fully be­hind the bill.

But House Free­dom Caucus Chair­man Mark Mead­ows in­sisted there were still not enough votes for the bill to pass, and he took is­sue with the changes dis­cussed Fri­day.

“Op­tion­al work re­quire­ments. Let me ask you a ques­tion: Is the defin­i­tion of ‘oxy­mor­on’ man­dat­ory op­tion­al work re­quire­ments?” he said.

Mead­ows also said he doesn’t ex­pect any states to choose a Medi­caid block grant over the bill’s per-cap­ita caps.

“I don’t know of one state that will pick a block grant,” he said. “But it’s good that they can pick a block grant if they want it, but it would be in­ter­est­ing based on the bill that is writ­ten to see if there is more than a hand­ful of states that would ac­tu­ally pick block [grant].”

Without any Demo­crat­ic sup­port, GOP lead­ers can only af­ford to lose 21 votes in the House.

Rep. Paul Gos­ar said Fri­day’s changes didn’t change his mind. He and oth­er Free­dom Caucus mem­bers re­main skep­tic­al of lead­ers’ as­ser­tions that they can change ele­ments of the law through ad­min­is­trat­ive ac­tion or fur­ther le­gis­la­tion. They want the House to go much fur­ther in re­peal­ing Obama­care, even if it means chal­len­ging the Sen­ate’s par­lia­ment­ary rules.

Still, not all Free­dom Caucus mem­bers are against the bill. Rep. Gary Palmer, who was among the mem­bers who met with Trump on Fri­day, said he will vote for the bill after the pres­id­ent agreed to Medi­caid changes. Palmer, along with Reps. Dave Brat and Mark San­ford, had voted against the bill Thursday in the House Budget Com­mit­tee.

Palmer’s re­versal gave lead­er­ship some hope of peel­ing off more mem­bers of the Free­dom Caucus be­fore Thursday’s floor vote. House Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers, in ad­di­tion to Trump, Vice Pres­id­ent Mike Pence, and Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­ret­ary Tom Price, will be work­ing the phones over the week­end, and lead­er­ship is es­pe­cially count­ing on Trump to twist Free­dom Caucus mem­bers’ arms.

Still, even with more con­ser­vat­ives on board, lead­er­ship must also avoid de­fec­tions from more mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­ans in swing dis­tricts.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Bal­art, whose dis­trict has one of the highest con­cen­tra­tions of Obama­care en­rollees, said he still has ma­jor con­cerns with the bill. “If you’re over 55 and you’re poor … what hap­pens to those folks now?” he said.

Rep. Robert Ad­er­holt had sim­il­ar con­cerns, and said he told Trump he was wor­ried about low-in­come seni­ors fa­cing sig­ni­fic­antly high­er premi­ums. But he said that he felt bet­ter about the le­gis­la­tion after the White House meet­ing.

“These are people that are count­ing on him, that were look­ing to him for guid­ance. And he said, ‘I hear you. This is a very im­port­ant is­sue. We are deal­ing with it,’” Ad­er­holt said. “He said, ‘Those are the people that voted for me and I am not go­ing to let them down.’”

Even if the votes come to­geth­er in the House, the bill will likely face a whole new round of obstacles in the Sen­ate. Con­ser­vat­ives, in­clud­ing Sen. Rand Paul, have ex­pressed con­cerns sim­il­ar to the Free­dom Caucus’s, while more-mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­ans, in­clud­ing Susan Collins and Dean Heller, say they can’t sup­port the bill be­cause of its deep cuts to Medi­caid.

Those three alone could sink the bill. And many oth­er sen­at­ors are con­cerned about vot­ing for a meas­ure that would, ac­cord­ing to the Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice, lead to 24 mil­lion more un­in­sured Amer­ic­ans by 2026.

But for now, House Re­pub­lic­an are only fo­cused on something that can pass their cham­ber.

“I think the Sen­ate is wor­ried about hav­ing to vote on any­thing, which is pretty typ­ic­al,” Rep. Tom Cole told Na­tion­al Journ­al. “These de­mands that we write something that they can pass; they should write something that they can pass. That’s not really our job.”

What We're Following See More »
Sessions: DOJ Will No Longer Issue Guidance Documents
18 minutes ago

"Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Friday the Justice Department will revamp its policy for issuing guidance documents. Speaking at the Federalist Society’s annual conference in Washington Friday, Sessions said the Justice Department will no longer issue guidance that 'purports to impose new obligations on any party outside the executive branch.' He said DOJ will review and repeal any documents that could violate this policy." Sessions said: “Too often, rather than going through the long, slow, regulatory process provided in statute, agencies make new rules through guidance documents—by simply sending a letter. This cuts off the public from the regulatory process by skipping the required public hearings and comment periods—and it is simply not what these documents are for. Guidance documents should be used to explain existing law—not to change it.”

Trump to Begin Covering His Own Legal Bills
1 hours ago
Steele Says Follow the Money
3 hours ago

"Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer who wrote the explosive dossier alleging ties between Donald Trump and Russia," says in a new book by The Guardian's Luke Harding that "Trump's land and hotel deals with Russians needed to be examined. ... Steele did not go into further detail, Harding said, but seemed to be referring to a 2008 home sale to the Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev. Richard Dearlove, who headed the UK foreign-intelligence unit MI6 between 1999 and 2004, said in April that Trump borrowed money from Russia for his business during the 2008 financial crisis."

Goldstone Ready to Meet with Mueller’s Team
3 hours ago

"The British publicist who helped set up the fateful meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a group of Russians at Trump Tower in June 2016 is ready to meet with Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's office, according to several people familiar with the matter. Rob Goldstone has been living in Bangkok, Thailand, but has been communicating with Mueller's office through his lawyer, said a source close to Goldstone."

Kislyak Says Trump Campaign Contacts Too Numerous to List
4 hours ago

"Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak said on Wednesday that it would take him more than 20 minutes to name all of the Trump officials he's met with or spoken to on the phone. ... Kislyak made the remarks in a sprawling interview with Russia-1, a popular state-owned Russian television channel."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.