House Republicans battling over their party’s proposed legislation to replace Obamacare say they have been told President Donald Trump is “agnostic” on the details of the plan, suggesting the current draft could face alterations.
The White House budget director, Mick Mulvaney, a former House member, delivered the message Tuesday that Trump is open to alterations in a meeting with leaders of the Republican Study Committee, a group of 170 House conservatives, according to two House members and an aide in the room.
Trump has also told House Republicans he’s ready to go out on the road to visit holdout lawmakers’ districts, and hold individual calls and meetings with them, to build support for the health-care bill.
“He said, ‘Let me know who I need to talk to, and I’ll talk to them,’” said Dennis Ross of Florida, a member of the House Republican vote-counting team that met with Trump Tuesday.
Trump’s early messaging to Capitol Hill makes it clear that he is most focused on getting the bill done, one way or the other, although it’s unclear what scale of revisions the administration is prepared to accept.
“How do you lose AARP and Club for Growth?” said Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota, referring respectively to the group that represent older Americans and a conservative group of deficit hawks. “That’s like a perfect storm.”
Even as two House committees began public consideration of the bill Wednesday, Republicans were lining up their demands for changes to the health-care legislation.
It isn’t clear how well a more free-wheeling negotiating approach fits with Speaker Paul Ryan’s detail-oriented outlook. But even as Trump himself tweeted that the bill introduced Monday was “wonderful,” he added that it was “out for review and negotiation.”
Meetings already are occurring on Capitol Hill between key groups of Republicans and administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence.
Representative Raul Labrador of Idaho said Wednesday that Mulvaney’s message to the House Freedom Caucus during a meeting Tuesday night was, if we can improve the bill, then submit the ideas.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that while the president is always open to negotiations or good ideas, the House bill is what the president is backing and plans to make a case to the American public around.
“He’s in very much of a sell mode,” Spicer told reporters at Wednesday’s press briefing. “The president is very proud of the product we have produced.”
Trump is also reaching out personally to some lawmakers. On Tuesday, he met with a group of House Republican vote counters. Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who attended that meeting, said Trump is “a very positive guy, he expects it to pass.”
‘Bloodbath for Republicans’
“But he did say ‘Look, I think if we don’t pass this, it’ll be a bloodbath for Republicans in the 2018 election,’” Cole added. “I think he’s absolutely right in saying that.”
Representative Dave Brat of Virginia, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, said Wednesday that group expects to meet with the president next week on the health-care bill.
Trump also reached out to Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who joined several House conservatives at a press conference Tuesday to criticize the measure.
“I talked to the president this week and I had a great conversation and he said he was interested in my ideas and interested in conservatives’ ideas,” Paul said in an interview Tuesday. “So I don’t know. I don’t think we have to be that far apart.”
As the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Ways and Means panel began considering the bill Wednesday, Democrats lined up a stack of amendments and made clear that the sessions would be lengthy. But Republicans said they would push through as quickly as possible.
“The country had their say. I’m glad there’s a mandate,” Representative Steve Scalise, the majority whip, said during the Energy and Commerce meeting. “The American people spoke. We’re not going to deny them this opportunity to repeal this law.”
Ryan has set March 22 as his target date for House passage, members said after a closed-door conference on Wednesday. The speaker also said Republican leaders are working “hand in glove” with Trump and the administration to get it done.
Ross said House Republican leaders and vote-counters haven’t yet given the president a list of individual lawmakers he should press or target to get the bill over the finish line.
“I don’t see any other choice for us,” he said. “But in a month from now, we’ll see whether it’s sitting over in the Senate, or we’re licking our wounds and talking about tax-reform lite,” he said.
Tax Credits and Medicaid
House Republicans are still wrestling over some basic foundations of their leaders’ plan. Several conservatives have lashed out at the inclusion of a refundable tax credit to help some people buy insurance, saying it would create a new government entitlement. A Republican Study Committee analysis labeled it “welfare.”
Others have been critical of the legislation’s continuation of Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid. Abortion is an issue for both conservatives, who are concerned about the clarity of language guaranteeing the tax credit money would not be used for abortions, and moderates, who are upset over provisions to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
“We are a long way off,” said Representative Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, who co-chairs a group of House moderates.
Meanwhile, estimates from congressional auditors of the plan’s costs and projections of how many Americans might lose insurance coverage still haven’t been made public.
“We’re not going to let some unelected bureaucrats in Washington stop us from fulfilling our promise to the American people,” Scalise said Wednesday in rejecting complaints about the CBO’s delay.
GOP leaders are counting on pressure Republicans feel to deliver on promises they’ve made to repeal Obamacare ever since the health-care law was passed in 2010.
“We’ve got to do it. We’ve got to do it. Everybody knows we have to do it,” said Representative Daniel Webster of Florida, describing Ryan’s tone in a closed-door meeting Wednesday.
That means the White House’s involvement is expected to only get more intense.