WASHINGTON — President Trump promised a “beautiful picture” and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) resorted to PowerPoint slides to defend Republicans’ plans to repeal Obamacare, but the image of a party at war with itself was everywhere on Thursday.
“Despite what you hear in the press, healthcare is coming along great. We are talking to many groups and it will end in a beautiful picture!” Trump tweeted at noon Thursday.
But one of Trump’s fiercest Senate allies doesn’t agree, calling for Republicans to “start over” on the bill.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a hardline conservative and big Trump fan who recently met with him at the White House, promised that the bill as written would never make into law.
“House health-care bill can’t pass Senate w/o major changes. To my friends in House: pause, start over. Get it right, don’t get it fast,” Cotton said in a series of tweets Thursday morning, comparing House Republicans’ “arbitrary” rush to move the bill forward with how Democrats proceeded in passing the law seven years ago.
Cotton is the latest conservative to bash the bill, as a number of right-wing House and Senate Republicans have come out firing against its provisions to create health care tax credits and slamming the plan for slow-walking an end to Medicaid expansion.
Ryan all but begged them to fall in line on Thursday, giving a PowerPoint presentation in rolled up sleeves that was light on policy details as he described the bill as the only option for repeal.
“This is the chance, and the best and only chance we’re going to get,” Ryan said plaintively. “This is the closest we’ve been to repealing and replacing Obamacare … this is the closest we’ll ever get to repealing and replacing Obamacare.”
But those comments were scoffed at by other lawmakers, with some pillorying Ryan for pushing the bill through House committee votes before the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office could analyze it and provide an estimated “score” of what it would cost and how many people would lose health coverage.
“It’s kind of crazy they’re voting without a score,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) told the Daily News. “There’s been continued concerns I and others have — would someone who’s working still be able to afford coverage?”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a critic of the bill who dined with President Trump on Wednesday night, told reporters that he thought Ryan’s argument that the reconciliation process vastly constrained what the bill could include was false. In his reading of the law, Vice President Mike Pence as Senate president gets to decide what’s permissible in reconciliation.
“The House bill as currently drafted I don’t believe can pass the Senate but I believe we can fix it,” he argued, calling for the addition of rule changes to allow health care to be sold across state lines and an immediate halt to those who are allowed to join expanded Medicaid programs.
“We should not approach this with both hands tied behind our back,” he said.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) criticized the House bill from the opposite direction, saying she has “great concerns” about how the bill unwinds Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.
Conservatives in both chambers continue to rebel against the bill as “Obamacare lite,” while moderate Republicans and those from swing areas worry about its provisions to undo Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, which some experts estimate could throw more than 10 million people off healthcare coverage.
Groups of all stripes, from the conservative Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks, Heritage Action and Club for Growth to the AARP and groups representing hospitals, doctors and insurers, have all come out against the bill.
Trump met with those conservative groups on Wednesday evening, and according to CNN he accused them of “helping the other side” by attacking the bill, while promising to blame Democrats if the legislation failed.
And his and Ryan’s allies are upping the pressure to pass the legislation. Vice President Mike Pence will head to Kentucky this week to hold a rally in favor of the bill, seeking to pressure Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), one of its fiercest GOP critics, into supporting it. Trump may follow with a visit of his own. The Ryan-aligned super-PAC American Action Network has launched ads targeting 30 conservative House Republicans to “Vote with Trump” and support the bill.
House Republicans continued to charge forward with moving the legislation through committee on Thursday. After an all-night session, the House Ways & Means Committee had managed to knock down all of Democrats’ objections and ended its markup. The House Energy and Commerce Committee continued on its own marathon session on Thursday, more than 24 hours after it initially began, as conservatives sought to alter the legislation and Democrats made futile attempts to kill it outright.
Ryan may be able to ram the bill through the House, as he has a comfortable majority and can lose roughly 20 members. But things only get harder after that.
Cotton is the ninth Republican senator to voice deep concerns about its provisions, a sign that even if Republicans manage to ram the bill through the House it faces even bleaker prospects in the Senate. If just three Senate Republicans vote against the bill that would be enough to kill it.
Republicans criticizing the bill as not conservative enough include Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), Mike Lee (Utah) and Cruz (Texas), while Sens. Rob Portman (Ohio), Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) and Cory Gardner (Colo.) have all complained about aspects of the bill from the left.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) defended the bill Thursday morning – while warning that his members need to get in “governing mode” if they hope to actually get any real legislation passed.
“When you have a president of a different party you can freelance all you want to. Go have press conferences, you guys show up… but now we have an actual chance to change the country. We have somebody who will sign legislation that we pass. We need to get into a governing mode and start to think about actually achieving something rather than just kind of sparring and having press conferences,” he said at a breakfast hosted by Politico.
And while House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has stated flat-out that the bill will pass his chamber, McConnell was much less confident.
“I hope in the end our members after they get a chance to offer their amendments and complain about one thing or another will remember that it repeals a significant number of taxes on the American people,” he said.