US President Donald Trump’s negotiating skills were put to the test in his first major legislative battle Wednesday as Congress debated a health care replacement plan that several members of his own party oppose.
Two committees in the House of Representatives began reviewing a sweeping bill that unwinds and replaces the Affordable Care Act, the emblematic health care reforms implemented under Barack Obama.
The plan was crafted by Republican leaders and endorsed by Trump, who campaigned heavily last year on a pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare.
But influential Republicans are hardening against the plan, arguing that it is merely “Obamacare Lite” and too similar to the law that conservatives railed against for years.
Several far-right lawmakers said the Republican plan abandons conservative fiscal principles by maintaining government subsidies of the Affordable Care Act, under the guise of “refundable tax credits” for people to purchase their own health insurance.
“I don’t think the plan they introduced yesterday is going to bring down the cost for working-class and middle-class families,” Republican congressman Jim Jordan, former chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told MSNBC.
He urged the party leadership to re-introduce the Obamacare repeal bill that passed Congress 15 months ago and was vetoed by Obama.
“Let’s put that same legislation on President Trump’s desk and then work on the replacement model that will actually bring down the cost of insurance.”
Trump was scheduled to meet with conservative leaders in the White House later Wednesday to discuss the plan.
The president will be under pressure to lure several conservatives in the House and Senate back into the fold.
His arm-twisting took on a very public tone Tuesday night, when he tweeted to one of the new bill’s chief critics, Republican Senator Rand Paul.
“I feel sure that my friend @RandPaul will come along with the new and great health care program because he knows Obamacare is a disaster!”
Like many conservatives, Paul is opposed to the use refundable tax credits, which would range from $2,000 a year for someone under age 30, to $4,000 for someone 60 or older. Families would get a maximum $14,000 in credits.
Democrats on the other hand warn that those credits are on average less than the subsidies built into the premiums under Obamacare.
– ‘Growing pains’ –
Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said millions of low-income and middle-class Americans would be forced to pay thousands of dollars more in premiums annually under the new plan, which also includes a tax break for insurance company executives making over $500,000 per year.
“Trumpcare is a health care handout for the wealthiest Americans,” Schumer said.
The bill “will cause millions to lose insurance as well as blow a gigantic hole in the federal budget,” he added.
House Speaker Paul Ryan pressed ahead regardless of the criticism, with the Energy and Commerce Committee and Ways and Means Committee both considering the legislation Wednesday, and expressed confidence the bill would get across the finish line.
“I have no doubt we’ll pass this,” Ryan told reporters. But he also acknowledged there have been stumbles along the way.
“We’re going through the inevitable growing pains of being an opposition party to being a governing party” now controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress, he said.
In opening remarks before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, chairman Greg Walden promised the new plan “will not pull the rug out from anyone as we transition away from this failing law.”
With internal opposition a worry, Republican leaders were mounting a furious pushback.
“We’re working hand in glove with President Trump, Vice President (Mike) Pence,” and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to ensure the bill is viable and has sufficient support.
No Democrats have come out in favor of the Republican replacement plan.
Some Republicans had trouble defending the proposed changes to the law.
Asked on MSNBC Tuesday whether he could guarantee that millions of people would not lose their health insurance under the new plan, congressman Buddy Carter talked up the bill’s positive aspects and said it would “empower” citizens, but he refused to make the pledge.
“I cannot guarantee anything, but I can guarantee that our plan will increase competition, it will increase choices, and it will increase patient care.”