Health and Science

Republicans 'need to look at Plan B or C' if they fail to pass Obamacare replacement this week, conservative rep says

Key Points
  • Republicans can only afford about 21 defections among their caucus to pass the bill.
  • Rep. Fred Upton on Tuesday became latest GOP member to say he would vote no.
  • Moderates are concerned about how the bill would affect people with existing health issues.
Rep. Mark Meadows 

Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

A top conservative member of Congress said he and fellow Republicans hope to vote on and pass an Obamacare replacement bill within days — but also must be ready with another plan if those hopes are dashed yet again.

"We're hoping that we're looking at days, not weeks at this point," said Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of around three dozen conservative congressmen.

"But if it doesn't happen this week, we need to look at Plan B or C," Meadows told reporters on Capitol Hill.

Meadows also said, "I don't know that there's a whole lot of momentum" toward getting the bill to a vote.

"I want to get across the finish line," Meadows said. "What's critical to us: Move enough people to 'yes.'"

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Monday the vote would happen when enough members support the bill for passage. About 20 Republicans have indicated they will vote against it, one shy of the 21 defections the GOP can afford. Eighteen or so Republicans are undecided.

Meadows' remarks came a day after White House officials predicted that a vote on the American Health Care Act would take place this week in the House, sending that bill to the Senate.

"This is going to be a great week," White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn said Monday on "CBS This Morning." "We're going to get health care down to the floor of the House. We're convinced we've got the votes, and we're going to keep moving on with our agenda."

Meadows' more-sober outlook Tuesday came a week after he cut a deal with GOP leaders that amended the bill, winning support of the bill from a number of conservatives.

The amendment grants states the ability to get waivers for insurers that would allow them to charge people with pre-existing health conditions more if they let their coverage lapse.

Although that amendment led to increased support from some members, it prompted other Republicans to say they would oppose the bill.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., former head of the Energy and Commerce Committee, cited the amendment on Tuesday when he revealed he would vote "no" on the bill.

"I know there are a good number of us that have raised red flags and real concerns" about the bill, Upton said.

Republican leaders, whose party holds a majority in both chambers of Congress, have struggled for nearly two months to persuade enough GOP members in the House to support the bill, which would repeal and replace key parts of Obamacare.

Nearly every week, there has been news about changes to the bill being made, followed by optimism that a vote will be held to pass it, followed by the reality setting in that the bill would fail in a vote.

The Freedom Caucus was a major stumbling block to an earlier version of the bill in late March, when Ryan, in a humiliating setback to him and President Donald Trump, was forced to pull the bill from a floor vote because it would have gone down in defeat. Conservatives at the time griped that the bill did not go far enough to gut Obamacare.

Despite lining up support from many Freedom Caucus members since then, GOP leaders have had to deal with the fact that changes to health-care law that make conservatives happy often makes moderates unhappy.

Many moderates are worried that the bill, if it becomes law, would lead to big increases both in the number of Americans without health insurance and in the price of individual health plans purchased by millions of people who remain insured.

The Congressional Budget Office, in analyzing an earlier version of the bill, projected that 24 million more people would be uninsured over the next decade as a result of changes to the existing law.

The latest version of the bill has not been analyzed by the CBO.

But Meadows said Tuesday an "independent analysis" since last week's amendment strongly suggests there will be fewer people uninsured than would have been under the earlier version.

Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., the head of the Democratic caucus, said the latest Republican bill is a "retread version" of the original bill.

"I think there will be a political price to pay at the ballot box in 2018" for congressmen who vote for the bill, Crowley said. "That's something for Republicans to mull over."