May 02, 2017
The fence is a crowded place on Capitol Hill. While Republicans desperately try to finish the seven-year job of replacing Obamacare, the "undecideds" are making life difficult for House leaders. Now that the House Freedom Caucus is on board with the American Health Care Act rewrite, it's the moderates waffling on a concept they had no trouble voting for in 2015.
And the timing couldn't be worse. With the chamber set to recess next week and the time for the reconciliation process running out, Republicans are diligently working trying to piece together the 216 votes it'll take to send the bill to the Senate. As many as 21 members are holding back leadership from putting a bill on the floor that would fulfill the GOP's biggest campaign promise since 2010. Dangerously close to the number Republicans can afford to lose and still pass the AHCA, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) is calling in the White House to get the indecisive camp in line. "Please hold for the president" may be the most common thing heard on Capitol Hill this week, as Donald Trump tries to dial in support for a measure that would deliver the most significant victory of his young administration.
At this point, though, time may be an even bigger enemy than division, since Congress can't move on to its next order of business without starting a new budget process -- effectively killing the health care debate. For now, the White House is upbeat. "We're getting closer and closer every day," said Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer, "so I would assume that today we're closer than we were a week ago. But we're not there yet, and that decision is going to be wholly within the speaker, the majority leader, and the whip to let us know when they're going to open that vote up."
Like us, you're probably wondering what the problem is. After all, in 2015, every House Republican but three voted for a reconciliation package very similar to this one. And some would argue this version is even stronger. Apart from stripping the lion's share of taxpayer funding from Planned Parenthood and rolling back the Obamacare mandates, it gives families more control over their health care through the minimum cap on health care savings accounts (HSAs); it lets states to opt out of the rule that demands insurers charge healthy and sick customers the same rate, which helps lower premium costs; it stops tax credits and HSAs from funding abortion-on-demand; it funnels almost $200 million dollars more to community health centers for women's cancer screenings and reproductive care; and it allows states to put a work requirement on healthy adults as a condition of Medicaid coverage.
As Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told CNN yesterday, "Look, I feel this is a pretty darn good bill..." In fact, "I think this is the best bill we can get out of the House." For moderate Republicans to disagree now is a betrayal of everything they've fought for the last two years. By March of 2014, the House had already voted 54 times to repeal or change Obamacare. What's different now? National Review's Rich Lowry thinks reality may have caught up with some in the GOP.
"As soon as Republicans were confronted with the possibility of writing law rather than making symbolic gestures, they lost much of their enthusiasm for the repeal-only bill they had sent to President Barack Obama's desk for a ritual veto in January 2016. (Republican support for that bill at the time was near-unanimous, 239–3 in the House and 52–2 in the Senate)," he writes. Now, it seems, "Many Republican moderates in the House were highly reluctant to repeal Obamacare, even though they hadn't bothered to let anyone know."
The AHCA isn't perfect -- but in terms of saving lives and money, protecting freedom and conscience, and returning control to states and individuals, this is light years ahead of Obamacare. That's why FRC is scoring in favor of the bill. As Speaker Ryan said today, the pro-life provisions are reason enough to support the plan. When people blasted House leaders for not defunding Planned Parenthood in the omnibus, he reminded them that the reconciliation bill -- the same one that rewrites Obamacare -- is our best hope for that.
"Look at what all our pro-life groups are saying. It needs to be in the reconciliation bill, because that's how you get it into law. We know -- and we've always known -- that it takes 60 votes to pass a bill through the Senate. This [omnibus] bill does not have funding for Planned Parenthood. That's important. The reconciliation bill advances the pro-life cause even further... And, by the way, [HHS Secretary] Tom Price is now the person who approves grants going to the states, so we feel very comfortable we're working hand in glove with the administration to advance our pro-life priorities... We keep all of our Hyde Amendment riders [in the omnibus]. And then our reconciliation bill -- that's the bill you don't need 60 votes on, that's the bill you don't need [Democrats to vote for], and that's the bill we're advancing our cause even further. And that is why these two efforts in conjunction advance our principles quite a bit."
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.