Policy

GOP Moderates Still Holding Out on Health Care

18 members confirmed opposition while leadership remains optimistic

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., leaves Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s office in the Capitol on Thursday, March 23, 2017. In the background, Capitol workers set up stanchions to keep the media from blocking the hallway. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

By LINDSEY McPHERSON and ERIN MERSHON

Mixed messages about securing needed “yes” votes on the health care bill flew around the House Thursday as a flood of moderates confirmed they remain unswayed by the latest changes.

House GOP Leaders touted progress but otherwise kept the vote count close to their vests while they continued to whip votes.

CQ Roll Call has confirmed at least 18 members that have said they remain opposed to the bill, 13 of which are members of the moderate Tuesday Group.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise suggested they have yet to secure enough support to call a vote.

“We’re continuing to work to get there and are talking to a number of members who are still having some conversations with us,” he said. “But we’re making real good progress.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy also suggested they were not there yet, laughing when a reporter told him rumors were circulating that leadership had the needed votes.

“You crack me up. You guys are all — you know you try real hard,” he said. “We’ll announce it whenever we’re voting on it.”

Leadership’s visible whipping on the floor and plans to meet Thursday night suggest they may be close and that they still view a vote this week as feasible.

Republican leaders, and the White House in particular, have hoped the House could pass its bill to overhaul the health care system before the 100th day of President Donald Trump’s presidency, which falls on Saturday. The legislative win would have been that much sweeter after the embarrassing collapse of the Republican’s first attempt at health care legislation, which Speaker Paul D. Ryan ultimately pulled from floor consideration because it lacked support.

Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden said late afternoon that he had not been told that the votes were secured.

Ryan said during his weekly news conference Thursday that leadership has not made any decisions regarding a vote but cited “more progress” from the latest amendment.

“We’re going to go when we have the votes. That’s a decision we’ll make when we have it,” he said when pushed about timing.

The new amendment would let states apply for a waiver from some of the health care law’s stricter insurance requirements. Under the new process, states could let insurers charge sick customers more than healthy ones if they didn’t maintain health insurance continuously.

Ryan said the amendment does more to ensure the sick maintain coverage, arguing the bill should now be more attractive to moderates. “If anything this puts more federal protections in on pre-existing conditions,” he said.

New York Rep. Chris Collins, a supporter of the health care bill, told reporters during the House’s early afternoon vote series that members had been told not to book flights home yet. (In addition to the possible health care vote, they still have to pass a stopgap appropriations measure by end of day Friday to keep the government open.)

About an hour later after a second vote series, Collins was chatting with a colleague about positive signs that the vote may happen soon and confirmed to reporters that there’s a growing sense of optimism that leadership will secure the votes and call a vote before week’s end.

The optimism, however, belies the growing list of moderates who have come out in opposition to the bill. Reps. Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania, Pat Meehan of Pennsylvania, Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey and Barbara Comstock of Virginia, along with eight other Tuesday Group members, have all confirmed this week they oppose the legislation.

Some hardliners remain opposed, too, including Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Walter Jones of North Carolina and Andy Biggs of Arizona. Reps. David Young of Iowa and Mark Amodei of Nevada, who do not appear to be affiliated with any of the major caucuses, have also said they will vote “no.”

Along with the at least 17 representatives who oppose the legislation publicly, there remain a number of moderates and others who are “leaning no” or refuse to say. GOP leaders can only afford to lose 21 votes on the measure and still pass it, unless some members of either party are not in attendance for a final floor vote.

The fact that few, if any, moderates have switched positions on this bill has created an image problem for New Jersey Rep. Tom MacArthur, a co-chairman of the Tuesday Group who spearheaded the amendment. Some of his centrist colleagues have criticized him for helping to negotiate an amendment with the House Freedom Caucus that moves the bill further to the right.

MacArthur disputed that assessment.

“That’s not true,” he said. “I made an amendment proposal in the ordinary course of things and I made it as an individual, so this is not a negotiation in the sense that it’s been reported.”

Asked why he felt the need to offer an amendment when he was already planning to vote “yes” on the bill, he said, “My interest was to try to advance a bill that was stalled, simple as that.”

MacArthur said the amendment has moved the bill further toward passage but it’s unclear if it’s enough.

“I don’t want to speak for other people, but certainly there are people that were no before that are yes now,” he said. “Now the key is to hold ones that were yes before.”

Should lawmakers vote within the next week, they will do so without a nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office analysis of the impact of the latest amendment to the legislation. The CBO informed Hill offices Thursday it would not be able to analyze the legislation within this week or the next, according to a House Democratic aide.

Collins suggested the party might not ever see a score for the new amendment.

“There’s not going to be another CBO score. I don’t believe anyone thinks anything that we’ve tweaked needs a CBO score,” he said.

Simone Pathé and Kerry Young contributed to this report.