GOP lead­ers push for sup­port of health bill

Long-awaited House show­down vote sched­uled for to­day.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Alan Fram and Ri­cardo Alonzo-Zal­divar

Their top leg­isla­tive pri­or­ity dan­gling in peril, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Repub­li­can lead­ers ca­joled re­cal­ci­trant GOP law­mak­ers Wed­nes­day to back their health care over­haul. A day ahead of a long-awaited House show­down roll call, con­ser­va­tives in­sisted they had the votes to torpedo the mea­sure and the num­ber of law­mak­ers pub­licly ex­press­ing op­po­si­tion snow­balled.

Trump hud­dled at the White House with 18 law­mak­ers, a mix of sup­port­ers and op­po­nents. Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence saw around two dozen and House GOP lead­ers held count­less talks with law­mak­ers at the Capi­tol. The ses­sions came as lead­ers rum­maged for votes on a roll call they can ill af­ford to lose with­out wound­ing their clout for the rest of the GOP agenda.

Asked by re­porters if he’d keep push­ing a health over­haul if the House re­jects the mea­sure, Trump said, “We’ll see what hap­pens.”

In a count by The As­so­ci­ated Press, at least 25 Repub­li­cans said they op­posed the bill, more than enough to nar­rowly de­feat the mea­sure. That num­ber was in con­stant flux amid the flurry of eleventh-hour lob­by­ing by the White House and GOP lead­ers. In­clud­ing va­can­cies and ab­sen­tees, Repub­li­cans will likely need 215 votes to pre­vail.

Most op­po­nents were con­ser­va­tives as­sert­ing that the GOP leg­is­la­tion de­mol­ish­ing for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s health care law did not go far enough. They in­sisted it must re­peal the law’s re­quire­ments that in­sur­ers pay for spec­i­fied ser­vices like ma­ter­nity care and cover all com­ers, in­clud­ing the sick­est, which they say drive up pre­mi­ums.

Mod­er­ates were daunted by pro­jec­tions of 24 mil­lion Amer­i­cans los­ing cov­er­age in a decade and higher outof-pocket costs for many low-in­come and older peo­ple, as pre­dicted by the non­par­ti­san Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice.

For now, the White House and House lead­ers showed no sign of de­lay­ing their leg­is­la­tion, their ini­tial at­tempt to de­liver on a pledge to erase Obama’s law they’ve re­peated since its 2010 en­act­ment.

“There is no plan B. There is plan A and plan A, we’re go­ing to get this done,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.

Un­der­scor­ing the del­i­cate path­way to vic­tory, par­tic­i­pants in the Pence meet­ing said there were no vis­i­ble signs of weak­ened op­po­si­tion and de­scribed one tense mo­ment.

U.S. Rep. Randy We­ber, R-Friendswood, said White House chief strate­gist Steve Ban­non told them: “We’ve got to do this. I know you don’t like it, but you have to vote for this.”

We­ber said U.S. Rep. Joe Bar­ton, R-En­nis, bris­tled.

“When some­body tells me I have to do some­thing, odds are re­ally good that I will do ex­actly the op­po­site,” Bar­ton said, ac­cord­ing to We­ber.

Some con­ser­va­tives said that at the Pence meet­ing, White House of­fi­cials sug­gested hav­ing the Se­nate amend the bill by eras­ing the in­surance reg­u­la­tions when — and if — it reaches the Se­nate. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said that had switched him to sup­port­ing the bill, but oth­ers were skep­ti­cal.

“We’re be­ing asked to sign a blank check,” said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., who has op­posed the bill. “In the past, that hasn’t worked out so well.”

“There’s not enough votes to pass it to­mor­row,” said Rep. Mark Mead­ows, R-N.C., leader of the House Free­dom Cau­cus, the hard­line group that has spear­headed op­po­si­tion to the GOP bill. Most of the group’s roughly three dozen mem­bers seemed op­posed to the leg­is­la­tion, more than enough to de­feat it.

The Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tion would halt Obama’s tax penal­ties against peo­ple who don’t buy cov­er­age and cut the fed­eral-state Med­i­caid pro­gram for low earn­ers, which the statute ex­panded. It would pro­vide tax cred­its to help peo­ple pay med­i­cal bills, though gen­er­ally skimpier than the aid Obama’s statute pro­vides. It also would al­low in­sur­ers to charge older Amer­i­cans more and re­peal tax boosts the law im­posed on high-in­come peo­ple and health in­dus­try com­pa­nies.

Some Repub­li­cans were show­ing ir­ri­ta­tion at their party’s hold­outs, all but ac­cus­ing them of dam­ag­ing the GOP.

“At some point we have to cow­boy up and prove we can gov­ern,” said Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. “Oth­er­wise we’re just go­ing to be the ‘no’ party and some peo­ple are OK with that, it ap­pears.”

The Rules Com­mit­tee, usu­ally tightly con­trolled by GOP lead­er­ship, was ex­pected to let the cham­ber vote on re­vi­sions that top Repub­li­cans con­cocted to win votes. These in­clude adding fed­eral aid for older peo­ple and pro­tect­ing up­state New York coun­ties — but not Demo­cratic-run New York City — from re­pay­ing the state bil­lions of dol­lars for Med­i­caid costs.

There were two other glim­mers of hope for GOP lead­ers.

Rep. Lou Bar­letta, R-Pa., said he had switched from “no” to “yes” af­ter Trump en­dorsed his bill to use So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers to hin­der peo­ple from fraud­u­lently col­lect­ing tax cred­its. Bar­letta, an out­spo­ken foe of il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, said he had been promised a vote next month on the mea­sure by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Also, one or two House Democrats seemed likely to miss Thurs­day’s roll calls due to health and fam­ily prob­lems. That would mean Repub­li­cans would need 215 votes to pre­vail, one fewer than if all Democrats ap­peared.

Democrats were uni­formly against the GOP re­peal drive. They laud Obama’s statute for ex­pand­ing health care cov­er­age to 20 mil­lion more peo­ple and im­pos­ing cov­er­age re­quire­ments on in­sur­ers.

Repub­li­cans face an even tougher fight in the Se­nate, which they con­trol by just 52-48. Six GOP sen­a­tors have al­ready said they op­pose the leg­is­la­tion, enough to sink it with­out changes.

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