GOP leaders delay vote on Obamacare replacement bill

Posted at 1:37 PM, Mar 23, 2017

GOP leaders announced Thursday they would delay a House vote on the American Health Care Act, hours after members of the conservative Freedom Caucus said they would not vote for the bill.

At least one Republican congressman predicted Thursday that a vote on a new health care bill would be delayed.

It was widely speculated that the House of Representatives would hold a vote on the American Health Care Act on Thursday night, but Rep. Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin said Thursday afternoon that the vote could get pushed back until Friday.

"I wouldn't be surprised if they push off the vote tonight, but I wouldn't be surprised if we vote by this time tomorrow," he told Scripps radio station WTMJ in Milwaukee.

Grothman's comments come in the wake of an announcement that members of the House Freedom Caucus could not reach a deal with GOP brass on the bill and would not vote for the bill as it stands now.

Grothman was optimistic about continuing negotiations, saying that factions of the Republican party "keep claiming they're getting closer" to a deal that would allow the bill to pass.

But other GOP members aren't as optimistic.

"This bill is collapsing," one House Republican who declined to speak on the record told CNN.

The challenge for leaders as they count their votes is daunting: give conservatives too much of what they want and risk losing the moderates, but keep the moderates on board and conservatives could walk.




Leadership is keenly aware that every vote counts: Republicans can't lose more than 21 of their caucus and still pass the bill, since no Democrats are expected to support it. According to CNN's ongoing whip count, 25 House Republicans have said they will vote against the bill, and four more have indicated they are likely to oppose it, though negotiations were ongoing Thursday.

Trump is now seeing and feeling first hand what it is like to work with the Freedom Caucus, a top GOP source said, that they are incredibly frustrating because they don't really want to get to yes -- and keep moving the goalposts.

Alabama GOP Rep. Bradley Byrne, emerging from a meeting with top House leaders, blasted the move to continue talks with the hard right in the Freedom Caucus while leaving the bulk of other members in the dark.

"I think the window for making decisions is rapidly closing. We need a vote or go home," said Byrne, a member of a large group of fiscal conservatives, the Republican Study Committee.

Negotiating with Freedom Caucus

For a brief window Wednesday night, there appeared to be a breakthrough, as the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, suddenly struck an optimistic tone and said a deal was being worked out with the White House.

A key element of the negotiations between the Freedom Caucus and the White House revolves around the so-called Essential Health Benefits. The White House is working to possibly include the repeal of Obamacare requirements that certain benefits -- such as mental health coverage, drug addiction coverage and maternity care -- be required in insurance plans.




Meadows told Fox News' Sean Hannity late Wednesday that he was "really optimistic" and that his members had an agreement in principle with Trump.

Thursday morning, Freedom Caucus member Florida Rep. Ted Yoho told CNN's "New Day" that he was still a no on the bill, but he was waiting to see what the actual agreement with the White House turns into.

"I haven't heard the final details," Yoho said. "We're still open for negotiations. We look forward to having more discussions today on the health care bill and that's why I think you don't see a vote.

Change is scaring away moderates

Ryan huddled Wednesday night in his office with his top deputies and GOP moderates. But after several hours, no members came to talk to the reporters waiting outside the meetings. Most members used back exits to leave and the big sticking points remained unresolved.

A member who was in the late-night Ryan meeting said tensions were running high.

"A lot of people don't realize what the implications of that are," the member said of stripping out essential health benefits. "So we're gonna railroad this thing through and there's going to be even more people pissed off--our constituents, stakeholders."

Many GOP members are frustrated with how leadership has handled the negotiations in the past 24 hours.

"I think the chances for getting a bill done this week gets smaller -- doesn't go to zero, no such thing as never or impossible -- but I think the chances of passing this bill get a lot, they get a lot lower if we don't do it this week," one member said.




"The vast majority of us in the Republican conference have been left out of these discussions and we have no idea what's going on, and I think that is a problem for our leadership and I think it's a growing problem for the chances of this bill," said Byrne, who is a supporter of the health care bill and part of the whip operation to help pass it.

Byrne complained that the Freedom Caucus continues to throw out an expanding list of demands and suggested there was little to be done to get some in that group on board and it was time to move on.

"Those members don't change, so at some point, you've got to say there's nothing in the world that's going to change their minds," Byrne said.

The difficulty of swinging the pendulum too far in either direction has been a persistent difficulty for leaders crafting the bill.

"It has always been the case -- pull the bill one way, risk losing members on the other end," a lawmaker involved told CNN.

What's in the bill

The bill introduced earlier this month would roll back many of the Obamacare taxes and eradicate the individual mandate. Instead of the subsidies available under Obamacare, officially known as the Affordable Care Act, the GOP plan provides Americans with refundable tax credits to purchase health insurance.

The bill also significantly restructures Medicaid and allows states to require able bodied adults to work if they want to be eligible for the program. After 2020, states will no longer be able to expand Medicaid like they could under Obamacare and states that haven't expanded the program at all are barred from doing so.

However, the GOP bill still includes some of the most popular pieces of Obamacare, including letting children stay on their parents' insurance plans until the age of 26 and including protections for people with pre-existing conditions, though insurers would be allowed to charge higher premiums to individuals whose coverage has lapsed.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that 24 million fewer Americans would be covered under this bill than under Obamacare by 2026 if the bill is becomes law in its current form.