Politics

Obamacare Judgment Day: Key Vote Hinges on Moderates

Republicans face defining moment as third shot at health care reform heads to House floor

A long-awaited vote in Congress to finally repeal and replace Obamacare will come on Thursday, if House Republicans can hold together enough skittish moderates.

A vote was called late Wednesday after at least one moderate-conservative Republican decided the time was right to finally get behind the Obamacare repeal bill, the American Health Care Act.

“Obamacare is just not working for so many Americans. I’ve been on the record for many years in favor of repealing and replacing Obamacare.”

A vote to repeal Obamacare, aka the Affordable Care Act, was cancelled on March 22, in a major humiliation for House Speaker Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump.

House Republicans then failed to get enough support for the American Health Care Act before Easter recess.

Now comes a crucial third effort on Thursday, just before an 11-day recess for the House.

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Many Capitol Hill observers were skeptical any vote would take place, but Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told LifeZette on Wednesday afternoon that he saw consensus within the GOP finally coming together.

The Thursday showdown comes after a string of fumbles by House GOP leadership in what should have been an easy goal for Republicans: the repeal of the hated Democratic health care law. Republicans have been promising for seven years — since the bill became law in March 2010 — that they would repeal it should they come to power.

But House Republicans have been agonizing for weeks on the details.

This changed on Wednesday when a key figure in negotiations turned his nay to a yea.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), a moderate Republican, had once co-authored a repeal of Obamacare, but he shocked Republican leaders on Monday when he said he didn’t think a new draft of the repeal bill did enough to cover those with pre-existing conditions.

Upton is reportedly considering a run for the Senate in 2018.

After meeting with Trump on Wednesday morning, Upton reversed course. Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan apparently engineered an $8 billion fix to help some Americans with pre-existing conditions defray insurance costs.

“Obamacare is just not working for so many Americans,” Upton said in a statement emailed to LifeZette. “I’ve been on the record for many years in favor of repealing and replacing Obamacare with responsible solutions that improve affordability and access while protecting those with pre-existing conditions. Our amendment would provide even more funding, $8 billion over five years, to reduce premiums or other out-of-pocket costs for individuals with pre-existing conditions in states that receive waivers under the MacArthur amendment.”

The so-called MacArthur amendment was seen as a key breakthrough in negotiations.

The amendment allows states to seek waivers that protect those with pre-existing conditions, according to CNN. The waiver idea was negotiated by Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), a member of the moderate Tuesday Group.

MacArthur successfully negotiated the idea with the House Freedom Caucus, the group of about three dozen conservative members. The Freedom Caucus helped kill the first effort to pass the bill, claiming it left in place too much of the monolithic original law.

But in a sign of how dysfunctional the House GOP has become, MacArthur is in danger of being expelled from the group, according to The Hill. Some moderate members of the Tuesday Group so loathe the Freedom Caucus that they view negotiation with its members as a betrayal.

The call for a vote is also a sign that Ryan and Trump are fed up with the feuding, and also the constant demands of all the Hamlets on the Hill. A call for a vote moves the football into the end zone. And Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters he thinks they have the votes.

But the warning shot at MacArthur is also a sign of the fleeting nature of Ryan’s majority on the measure. There is not much room for error on Thursday.

House Republican leadership can count on zero Democrats to help on repeal. Republicans need 216 votes to pass the bill. That means it can lose between 20 to 22 Republican members.

Still, Upton’s latest amendment puts repeal of Obamacare within grasp. House GOP leadership initially did not whip up votes after the Upton deal was forged. Then, late Wednesday, a vote was announced for Thursday.

If the bill passes on Thursday, the Senate will finally get a crack at repeal. But senators are not sure they have the votes right now.

“I think if push comes to shove, we would,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), speaking to LifeZette. “But I’m not sure.”

House Republicans are usually worried that Senate Republicans will water down legislation, and make it more moderate by adding more compromises with Democrats. But on Obamacare repeal, a key House conservative told LifeZette he thinks the Senate could actually improve the product because of the chamber’s rules on reconciling legislation.

“I have a little bit of faith, not a lot, that it will improve in the Senate,” said Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho).

A possible Thursday vote will be a key test for the Tuesday Group’s Republican moderates, such as Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.). Brooks represents a heavily Republican, conservative district that includes Kokomo, Tipton and Carmel. But it also includes part of Indianapolis, a city with a liberal newspaper that often flays Obamacare critics.

Still, Brooks is on record as having supported more stringent repeals of Obamacare in the past.

“I’m proud to join my colleagues in the House and Senate in supporting the repeal of the individual and employer mandates, the medical device tax, and the ‘Cadillac’ tax on health plans,” Brooks said in a Jan. 6, 2016, press release.

Brooks and other Tuesday Group members get their crack at a real repeal bill on Thursday.

meet the author

Political reporter, LifeZette. Indiana University journalism grad. Boston U. business grad. Former Indiana, Alabama statehouse reporter, Daytona Beach editorial writer.

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