After a draft of the House bill to repeal Obamacare leaked Friday, conservatives have had ongoing concerns about how leadership is structuring refundable tax credits and Medicaid expansion among other items. But they are also upset about how few details they feel they are getting from their leaders.
According to a source in the room, a Republican member said what others were thinking: instead of learning about the drafted legislation in conference, they were learning about it from places like CNN or Politico, which first obtained the draft legislation.
“We’re hearing about all of this secretly… We’re hearing about the leaks,” Virginia Republican Rep. David Brat told CNN.
Lawmakers across the board have been emboldened to speak out against their leadership’s plans. House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows told CNN that he would vote against the draft. North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Walker, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said in a statement he wouldn’t accept the “current path” the Republican leadership appeared to be on.
Leaders have reiterated that the draft in question was old and no longer “viable” but there is growing fear among conservatives, that the leaked draft incident reveals a bigger problem: leadership is hiding the ball on how exactly they will repeal the Affordable Care Act. As members rely on Power Point presentations and bullet points, the media is reporting on behind the scenes progress they are in the dark about.
“They aren’t being as open as they should be,” said North Carolina Republican Rep. Walter Jones. “At some point in time, they will have to be totally, totally sunshine.”
As part of the legislative process, members routinely send drafts of legislation to the Congressional Budget Office to get a sense of how a bill will affect the budget. But members say they’d like to know that is the progress that has been made instead of reading about it in the news.
“We didn’t even know it was being scored,” Brat said. “No one announced there was a score.”
How powerful are the conservatives?
Repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act has been a top agenda item for Republicans for seven years now, and House conservatives are determined to have a major say in the path forward. After years of watching their efforts wither in the Senate or be vetoed by former President Barack Obama, conservatives don’t want to temper their efforts.
What is unclear now is how much power they really have in Trump’s Washington.
“I think there is going to be a big surprise when folks find out that a lot of people aren’t willing to to do more socialism. It didn’t work the first time around, and I don’t think we want our reputations voting for round two of what just failed,” Brat said.
Republican leaders insist that their proposals are conservative and the same ideas members of the House Freedom Caucus have been rallying around for years.
House Speaker Paul Ryan Tuesday said the plan under consideration is similar to one former Rep. Tom Price — now Trump’s secretary of Health and Human Services — worked on previously.
“The Price Plan was considered the conservative gold standard at the time last year. Many conservatives co-sponsored that plan. That plan looks a lot like what we’re working on right now,” Ryan told reporters.
A senior House GOP leadership aide insisted that the White House and congressional Republicans are all on the same page.
“So I haven’t seen any vote totals on any of this so we’ll continue to work forward. We still have a lot of work to do, but at the end of the day we’ve got to repeal Obamacare,” said House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady.
It’s not that Republican leaders haven’t tried to keep members in the loop. Key leaders hosted a series of listening sessions on Obamacare taxes and Medicaid reform before members left for the February recess. And leaders announced Tuesday that they plan to host two more listening sessions this week. But, conservatives say the sessions aren’t really a substitute for actual legislative text.
“Truthfully, I went to two listening sessions last week. I’m going to try to go to the two this week and all I could think about was this is a hell of a lot more complex than I thought,” Jones said.
Moderates unhappy as well
It’s not just the conservative wing of the GOP that leadership has to contend with.
Rep. Tom MacArthur, a co-chair of the moderate Tuesday Group, said he and his colleagues are watching closely, but it is “too soon” to weigh in on whether he could support draft legislation.
“The details on what will help the people in the individual marketplace to be able to afford decent insurance is still too murky for me to weigh in on, but I’m going to be looking at that very carefully,” he said. “Personally, I think it’s premature to weigh in on a leaked, in-process document.”
Republican schisms over Obamacare are nothing new, but they seem to be especially pronounced just hours ahead of Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night. While leaders expect the President to endorse some key elements of the Obamacare repeal and replace, conservatives are hoping that Trump doesn’t.
“I hope they do not go along with this plan,” Brat said. “I don’t want them adding their weight to that plan.”
No matter what, expect the debate to continue, one veteran lawmaker said.
Kentucky Republican Hal Rogers, the former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he wasn’t too worried the GOP discord over Obamacare would ultimately doom the outcome.
“It’s Congress,” he said. “The product has not yet gelled and this is going to go on for awhile.”