Leading GOP moderate opposes plan to move House health bill
WASHINGTON — Leading House conservatives are saying good things about a plan to revive the GOP health care bill. But an influential GOP House moderate is opposing the proposal, leaving party leaders to assess whether the idea could help one of President Donald Trump’s premier but most problematic priorities spring back to life.
Republican lawmakers were meeting Wednesday to consider how to rescue the GOP drive to repeal much of President Barack Obama’s health care law.
That salvage effort comes as bipartisan bargainers edge toward agreement on a separate $1 trillion budget bill that would prevent a partial federal shutdown this Saturday. While erasing Obama’s statute is solidly opposed by Democrats, the budget measure will need support from both parties because GOP conservatives often oppose spending legislation.
Leaders of both parties cited budget progress Tuesday after Trump signaled he was abandoning his demand that the measure include money for his proposed border wall with Mexico, an idea strongly opposed by Democrats and many Republicans.
“We’re pleased he’s backing off,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
With Trump’s 100th day in office coming Saturday, a White House looking for achievements had pressured GOP leaders to try pushing health care legislation through the House this week. That seems unlikely now because an effort to sell the plan to rank-and-filed Republicans will likely take time. House leaders say they will hold a vote when they know they can win.
“This week, next week, we don’t know,” White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said Tuesday. “Progress is being made and we’re feeling good about that process as of now.”
To gain support for the bill, bargainers from the GOP’s conservative and moderate camps have proposed letting states get federal waivers to ignore coverage requirements that Obama’s statute has imposed on insurers. These include an obligation that they charge seriously ill and healthy customers the same premiums and that they cover specified services like maternity care.
Leaders of the conservative House Freedom Caucus met Tuesday to consider the suggested changes. They were crafted by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., that caucus’ leader, and Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., a leader of the moderate House Tuesday Group, with the backing of Vice President Mike Pence, Republicans say.
The plan “has real merits worthy of consideration for all the Freedom Caucus folks,” said Meadows, whose group has roughly three dozen members.
“Generally speaking, there’s a lot of optimism,” Meadows said.
Another influential conservative and Freedom Caucus member, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said the plan was “a positive.” He and Meadows were among the conservatives who opposed the initial version of the bill last month — as did many moderates — forcing House leaders to withdraw it before a planned vote, in a mortifying retreat.
But moderate leader Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., said the changes ignored his concerns that the health care bill would cut too deeply into the Medicaid program for the poor and leave many people unable to afford coverage. Dent is another leader of the Tuesday Group and is considered a good gauge of the views of many of its roughly 50 members.
“Same concerns, and this didn’t really address them,” said Dent, who like Jordan said he’d not yet seen legislative details.
Under the proposed revisions, states could not obtain exemptions to Obama’s requirements that insurers offer coverage to everyone and that family policies cover grown children up to age 26. States getting waivers so insurers could charge higher prices to people with illnesses would have to have high-risk pools, or government-subsidized funds to help those consumers cover costs.
Critics say allowing insurers to boost premiums on the ill means insurers can charge them exorbitant premiums, effectively making such coverage unaffordable. They also say high-risk pools have a history of being underfunded.
Reflecting the pressure on Republicans to pass a health overhaul, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said that failing to do so is the GOP’s fault.
“That was the No. 1 issue in my campaign,” said McCain, who was re-elected last fall. “And when I don’t get it replaced, if it’s not replaced, then it reflects on my campaign.”
But an ABC News-Washington Post poll showed that the public wasn’t on board. Sixty-one percent said Obama’s law should be retained and fixed, with just 37 percent favoring repeal.
In the separate budget bill, Trump seemed poised to procure about $15 billion to boost the military. Aided by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Democrats were pushing to extend health benefits for 22,000 retired Appalachian coal miners and their families whose medical coverage is set to expire at the end of April.
Another potential stumbling block to the budget bill also seemed to be fading.
Trump has threatened to scuttle payments the government makes to insurers under Obama’s law that help low-income people afford coverage, a move strongly opposed by Democrats. Both Schumer and White House officials flashed conciliatory signals on that dispute as well.
AP reporters Erica Werner, Julie Bykowicz and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.