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Moderates Hedge On New Obamacare Repeal Amendment

Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., makes his way to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan's office in the Capitol on Thursday, March 23, 2017. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., makes his way to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan's office in the Capitol on Thursday, March 23, 2017. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)


Moderate Republicans are not embracing the latest Republican amendment to the party’s GOP health care overhaul.

At least four members who did not support the original legislation, including Reps. Dan Donovan, R-N.Y., Charlie Dent, R-Pa., Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Leonard Lance, R-N.J., still do not support it. More centrists are hedging, saying they have to study the amendment more closely. Several who supported the previous version of the bill, including Reps. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., Mike Coffman, R-Colo., Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., Susan W. Brooks, R-Ind., and Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, said they are now undecided and looking at the language.

“My own sense is that many of our members who were opposed to the bill are probably still opposed,” moderate Tuesday Group co-chairman Charlie Dent said, adding that he does not conduct whip counts himself.

Their wavering comes as more hardline Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus have suddenly thrown their support behind the legislation. Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., worked closely with centrist Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., to draft the text of the new amendment, which lets states apply for waivers from some of the 2010 health care law’s insurance requirements, like the provision that prevents insurance companies from charging sicker people higher prices.

All eyes are now on the moderates, since support from the House Freedom Caucus alone would not be enough to pass the bill in the House. A GOP aide confirmed Wednesday that conservatives changing their positions would not likely be enough to secure the votes needed for passage, and several lawmakers agreed.

The centrist Tuesday Group’s meeting, on Wednesday because of the House schedule, was filled with “a lot of uncertainty,” Florida Republican Carlos Curbelo said afterward. He said he is undecided on the new amendment.

“I need a thorough explanation of how this works, and how it continues or keeps our commitment to those with pre-existing conditions,” Curbelo said.

Many moderates have expressed concerns in the past about changes that would eliminate the protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions that are at the center of the 2010 health care law. The MacArthur-Meadows amendment would let states apply for waivers from some of those protections, like the requirement that everyone be charged the same price.

The amendment would keep a requirement that insurers offer coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, and consumers who maintained continuous coverage would also be protected.

Dent said he feels the latest proposal “is simply a matter of blame shifting and face saving.”

The Freedom Caucus, rather than moderates, bore most of the blame for the stunning failure of the first GOP attempt to overhaul the health care system, which was ultimately pulled from floor consideration in March because it lacked enough support to pass.

Both Dent and Reed also said some members of the moderate group were frustrated that MacArthur’s work on the amendment seemed to be advertised as coming from the Tuesday Group as a whole, rather than MacArthur individually. MacArthur is a co-chair of the centrist group.

“The group was not empowering one individual to act on behalf of everyone,” Reed said. “There’s a concern when you’re a chair of a group that you have to be very careful not to bind the entire group, especially when the group doesn’t act that way.”

Conservative groups back bill

As the House Freedom Caucus came on board, a host of the most conservative Republican policy groups also withdrew their opposition to the House plan to repeal and replace the health care law.

The Club for Growth and Freedomworks released statements supporting the new amendment. The influential Heritage Foundation said it no longer planned to “key vote” a vote against the bill if the amendment is adopted.

“To be clear, this is not full repeal and it is not what Republicans campaigned on or outlined in the Better Way agenda,” said CEO Michael Needham. “The amendment does, however, represent important progress in what has been a disastrous process. Given the extreme divides in the Republican Party, allowing Texas and South Carolina to make different decisions on health insurance regulations than New York and New Jersey may be the only way forward.”

Joe Williams contributed to this report.

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