After laying a goose egg with conservatives on the ObamaCare replacement bill, House Republican leadership has turned to someone who knows something about dealmaking to salvage the American Health Care Act. Donald Trump sent his aides to Capitol Hill to urge passage of the AHCA, and also to send another message — that the White House is open to changes. Politico’s Rachel Bade and Kyle Cheney offer an intriguing look into the first legislative charm offensive of the new administration:
The White House dispatched budget director Mick Mulvaney to a closed-door meeting of House conservatives Tuesday night to reassure the health plan’s harshest critics that the details aren’t set in stone. Mulvaney, a former House Freedom Caucus member himself, told the HFC that the White House is open to changes and encouraged them to try to amend the bill to their liking in committee and on the floor.
“I think the message has been consistent throughout the day is that White House is willing to negotiate,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), leader of the Freedom Caucus, after the meeting. …
Rep. Dave Schweikert, the lone member of the Freedom Caucus on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, said Mulvaney made the same pitch when he showed up unannounced at the HFC meeting Tuesday night.
“If you have other creative things, the White House will look at that too,” he summarized, adding that Mulvaney conveyed that the choice wouldn’t be “binary” between the leadership bill and the current system.
Conservatives plan to take him up on that offer. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said “right now, the speaker of the House does not have the votes to pass this bill unless it’s got substantial Democrat support.”
The man who wrote The Art of the Deal should appreciate a little horse trading, after all, but that may turn out to be a lot more difficult than Trump and his team imagine. The Politico Playbook report this morning says that the White House has reminded House conservatives and other skeptics that they can use the committee and amendment process to modify the bill through “regular order.” The initial form of the bill isn’t so much the issue as the final form, they argue.
That’s true as far as it goes, but it brings up other problems. Using committee and amendment processes will eat up a lot of time for a bill that Paul Ryan wants to get out of the House by the first week of April. Those avenues also leave House conservatives at a dramatic disadvantage, because Democrats will get to vote in committee and on those amendments, too. Had the AHCA been drafted with conservative policies in mind, it would at least had the benefit of initial majority backing. Now conservatives not only have to fight within their caucus for these changes, but have to get Democrats to come along to win those battles if enough Republicans resist the changes — and that’s almost certainly never going to happen.
The wheeling and dealing will likely be in the other direction, charm offensive or no. With Trump fully behind the current version of the AHCA, balkers have to worry about their standing back home, where Trump support remains high in most places:
On Capitol Hill, a bunch of Republicans we spoke to were wondering if and when Trump is going to go on the road, hold rallies and pressure skeptical lawmakers to get on board with the plan. For example: Trump could drop into the state of a lawmaker in opposition and say, “This is the repeal and replace bill. Let’s make sure your congressman knows he should be on board.” It could make a major difference.
The likeliest path out of this conflict will be to convince House conservatives to come along on this as a first step, allowing reconciliation to repeal much of ObamaCare and leaving a marker in place for further work down the road. That’s really the only way this gets through either chamber; the rest of the bill is arguably a placeholder in case Democrats block any attempt to follow it up. That argument, along with some pressure via home-town voters, might be enough to get the White House a win … maybe.
Tom Price is making the same implicit pitch on Good Morning America today, too. Yes, the AHCA isn’t perfect or complete, but the current system is so bad that we have to take some action now rather than wait for a perfect and/or complete solution to arrive. Needless to say, George Stephanopoulos is also a skeptic, albeit for different reasons: