WASHINGTON — The House will vote on a plan to repeal Obamacare on Thursday, Republican leaders announced Wednesday night, setting up what could be the make-or-break moment of the early Trump presidency.
“Do we have the votes? Yes. Will we pass it? Yes,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) declared.
The announcement came at the end of another frantic day for House Republicans as leadership and the White House begged and cajoled wavering members to come onboard before the chamber heads out on a week-plus recess.
Members say the break would likely kill the bill’s momentum and possibly doom efforts to repeal Obamacare for good — again.
Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus, said it would be “impossible” to pass this bill down the road if Republicans don’t get it done this week, although similar claims were made during the prior attempt to pass the bill.
The legislation picked up some big momentum earlier Wednesday when two must-have Republican congressmen reversed course to back the Obamacare repeal efforts.
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), an influential voice on the issue and former head of a powerful health care committee, decided to come back on board after getting promises for more money to subsidize state high-risk pools where some people with preexisting conditions would have to buy their insurance.
His decision came after he and Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.), another GOP holdout, met with President Trump at the White House.
“I think it is likely now to pass in the House,” Upton told reporters.
House Republicans, led by Speaker Paul Ryan, made the Upton-backed changes official on Wednesday afternoon. They announced that they would provide $ 8 billion over five years for states that get waivers to opt out of requirements that insurance companies cover preexisting conditions for everyone in their state.
They hadn’t posted the actual final legislation by the time they scheduled the votes, and aren’t giving enough time for the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to score the bill and analyze how much it’ll cost and what impact it will have on Americans.
The House’s earlier attempt to repeal and replace the law was badly damaged by the budget office’s finding that over 20 million people could end up losing their health care.
The President had demanded the House vote on the bill, but backed off after it became clear it would be soundly rejected.
When it was reported on Wednesday that the new bill still includes a waiver exempting members of Congress and their staffs from losing Obamacare’s popular provisions Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) said separate legislation would close the loophole.
House GOP aides wouldn’t say if they had the numbers to get the bill passed, as the vote appears to be headed to a razor’s edge margin.
Republicans can only lose 22 votes and still declare victory, and plenty of the party’s rank-and-file continue to have problems with the bill, with roughly that number declaring their opposition or indicating they won’t back the legislation.
Late on Wednesday, the bill cleared a procedural step allowing it to advance to the House floor.
But critics say the proposal is still too close to the one that failed last month.
Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) said it has the “same problems” as before.
“It’s the Medicaid problem in the state, it’s the AARP problem with seniors, it’s all the hospitals and doctors being against it,” he said.
And with House GOP leaders scrambling to lock down the necessary votes, some members are wary of what they might be adding at the last minute.
“Anytime you get panicky, that’s what they are, panicky, you start making little tweaks here, ‘I’ll make you happy, I’ll make you happy,’ and then what the hell do you have when it’s all said and done? Nobody knows,” said Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.). Democrats are united in their opposition to the bill, and even if Republicans pass it, it could prove to be a hollow victory.
Senate Republicans have indicated they’re unlikely to pass similar legislation.
With Denis Slattery