Conservatives Ask to Start Over on GOP Health Plan

Leadership-crafted legislation remains short of majority

From left, Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., looks on as Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, speaks with staff during the House Rules Committee meeting to formulate a rule on the American Health Care Act of 2017 on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

By Rema Rahman and Lindsey McPherson, CQ Roll Call

Conservatives are flexing their muscles in Congress as they get closer to securing the “no” votes that would sink the GOP leadership-crafted bill to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law.

As of Wednesday afternoon, there were 30 “no” votes on the bill, according to a conservative member who requested anonymity to discuss private whip counts. With the Rules Committee meeting today to formulate a rule for a scheduled vote on Thursday, time is running short to secure the needed votes for a majority.

Sen. Rand Paul, after leaving a meeting with several members of the House Freedom Caucus, said defeating the bill would be a rebuke to Speaker Paul D. Ryan and his allies and would bring conservatives to a stronger position.

“This is really a defeat of Paul Ryan,” Paul said. “He’s going to have to give conservatives a seat at the table.”

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows reiterated a stance shared by several conservatives that there were not enough votes for the bill to pass the House.

“The opposition is still strong,” Meadows said. “They need to start over.”

Freedom Caucus founding member Raul Labrador declined to talk about how many members are committed to voting against the bill but said the votes are not there for the bill to pass and suggested leadership not bring it up for a vote Thursday as planned.

“I don’t think it would be wise for them to move forward,” the Idaho Republican said. “We’re trying to help them. You know, we don’t want to embarrass anybody, we just want to — we’re actually trying to get to yes.”

Labrador added: “This is important enough for us to take it easy, take it slow, go through the process and see how much we can actually do. I think we can accomplish a lot if we do it that way.”

“There have not been any substantive offers to change the bill before we vote on it on the House floor. There have been promises of hopes that something constructive might happen in the Senate. But that’s after we vote. And that’s not going to work,” Rep. Mo Brooks said.

The Alabama Republican said that despite pressure from leadership-backed political action committees for people to call his and other opponents office urging them to support the bill, there have been few urging that. More than 1,300 people have called urging a "no" vote, while only 30 have urged a "yes" vote, he said.

The Freedom Caucus is still holding strong, Brooks said. “In the absence of their being substantive changes offered to this legislation, it will fail tomorrow,” he said. “And quite frankly I think there are more votes against the bill today than there were yesterday or Sunday or last week.”

Asked about the call for a redo, White Press Secretary Sean Spicer dismissed it.

“That sounds like one member’s opinion,” he said, contending members have been signing onto the bill each day.

Pennsylvania Rep. Lou Barletta decided to change his vote to yes on the health care bill after meeting with President Donald Trump. He said he got a guarantee to hold a vote on a bill that would require people who receive the tax credit to have Social Security numbers.

But Meadows and his bunch seem to be standing strong, even though they’ve been getting the hard sell from Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. But absent major changes, that’s not enough for them.

“We’re told that there would be no substantial amendments,” Meadows said, and added caucus members take that to mean their concerns won’t be addressed before Thursday’s vote. If that holds true, Meadows said, “there would still be more than enough” no votes to defeat the bill.

Asked if the president has a backup plan should the House kill the GOP health package, Spicer replied: “There is Plan A and there is Plan A. We’re going to get this done.”

John T. Bennett contributed to this report.

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