Moderates edging out conservatives in battle to change healthcare bill

Moderate Republicans appeared to have an edge over conservative Republicans on Monday in the battle for the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, just hours before GOP leaders were set to unveil a slate of changes to that bill.

“I’m satisfied enough that I will support the bill,” said Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.Y., a co-chairman of the moderate Republican Tuesday Group, told the Washington Examiner. “We’ve been negotiating for a week with leadership on a number of things, and that included holding the date steady—the Medicaid expansion date at 2020, trying to do something for the poorest people, which we have done by changing the indexing for the aged and disabled in Medicaid, and by creating a fund, which will be $85 billion, that will be used to increase the [tax] credits for people in the 50-64-year-old age band.”

MacArthur said he others in the 54-member caucus will meet with President Trump at the White House on Tuesday to discuss the bill further, but said, “we understand the president has already agreed on this.”

By contrast, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C, who leads the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said he is not satisfied and cannot support the bill even when it’s changed to reflect the “manager’s amendment.” That new version will include a provision he sought that would require able-bodied Medicaid recipients to work or actively seek employment.

“We’ve communicated very clearly what we’d like to see and have spent hours and hours and hours investing in trying to make this a better bill, and at this point it’s very clear that negotiations are over and I think it’s incumbent upon us to figure out where our members are with the cards we’ve been dealt,” Meadows said. He spoke after the Freedom Caucus board met but shortly before the entire caucus was set to gather to discuss the plan to repeal and partially replace the Affordable Care Act.

“But to suggest that there’s going to be any substantive changes between now and Thursday would go against everything we’re being told,” Meadows said. He said the caucus would not vote to take an official group position Monday night.

“There are some small tweaks that are good tweaks but there’s no substantial changes in that manager’s amendment that will make anybody be more compelled to vote for this,” Meadows predicted, adding, “I don’t think that the bill will pass without substaintal changes.”

Since he doesn’t expect more changes to be forthcoming, he said the bill will fail on the House floor Thursday. “I’ve been on the record that we have had enough votes to make sure that this does not pass, and nothing has changed,” he said.

Last week Meadows and other leading Freedom Caucus members were promising to offer an amendment encompassing all their demands. But now he said there is no point in doing so. “We have a number of amendments that we’d like to offer but at the same time I understand it is going to be a closed rule,” making it a moot point, he said.

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Meadows also said he sees no reason for the caucus to take any group position on the bill. “We’ve been very consistent, and so to take just another formal position — I’m not wanting to poke someone in the eye, you know, our positions haven’t changed,” he said.

Meadows acknowledged that he and other Republicans leaning toward a “no” vote are under tremendous pressure from leadership and the White House to change their minds. “They’re already whipping with a whip that is about 10 feet long and five feet wide,” Meadows said of the House leadership team’s effort to “whip” votes. “I’m trying to let my members vote the way their constituents would want them to vote. And the majority of those would be to vote against this bill.”

Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., who is close to Trump, said he believes the bill will pass. “I heard a significant level of confidence that the votes will be there,” he said about his discussions with leadership and the Trump administration. “The meetings I am in, I don’t see any concern or panic. I see confidence that it is coming together.”

Leadership and the White House are making the case that Republicans have campaigned for seven years on repealing President Barack Obama’s signature law and must follow through on that promise. That, and the few concessions to conservatives such as the work requirement and allowing states to block grant Medicaid, was enough to win over Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., who leads the 172-member Republican Study Committee. “We will continue working to advocate changes to the bill, and hope the legislation improves in the Senate,” Walker stated after meeting with Trump last week. “At the end of the day, we are all committed to repealing Obamacare.”

Although Trump is making a full-court press for the legislation — he heads to Capitol Hill on Tuesday morning to huddle with the entire House Republican Conference—many conservatives are still willing to buck him. Even a key Trump ally said he won’t vote for the legislation. “I’m a no right now,” Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., told the Washington Examiner. “I’m looking for a verification of Social Security numbers before anyone gets a tax credit — $750 million went to illegal aliens under Obamacare, over 500,000 got subsidies that weren’t entitled to them. I want to make sure that every Social Security number is verified before tax credits go out.”

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Barletta, a founding Trump Caucus member who rose to national prominence in 2006 when, as the mayor of Hazleton, population 25,000, his city was the first to pass a local immigration enforcement ordinance, said the immigration component is deal breaker for him. “So far, nothing’s changed to address the concern that I have, so I’ve gone from a ‘lean no’ to a ‘no,'” he said.

Meadows thinks his members should fear voters’ wrath more than Trump’s. “I think they’re all very aware of both the political advantages and disadvantages — more disadvantages than advantages,” of bucking Trump, he said.

However, Meadows is still willing to work with Trump. “He’s asked me a number of times to negotiate in good faith and I certainly will take a call from the president and explain to him why we can do better in the House this week.”

Al Weaver contributed to this article.

This post originally appeared on Washington Examiner

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