Hmmm: Freedom Caucus goes neutral on AHCA after late changes

The odds of passage for the House Republican bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare improved considerably yesterday evening, as a key group of conservatives appear to have backed off from their earlier opposition. The Washington Post reports that the Freedom Caucus has shifted to a neutral stance, allowing more room for its members to vote for the American Health Care Act (AHCA) when it comes to the floor on Thursday.

But will they? That depends on how substantive a series of last-minute changes turn out to be:

The tweaks addressed numerous GOP concerns about the legislation, ranging from the flexibility it would give states to administer their Medicaid programs to the amount of aid it would offer older Americans to buy insurance. They are the product of two weeks of negotiations that stretched from the Capitol to the White House to President Trump’s Florida resort.

The bill’s proponents also appeared to overcome a major obstacle Monday after a key group of hard-line conservatives declined to take a formal position against the bill, known as the American Health Care Act.

The House Freedom Caucus has threatened for weeks to tank the legislation drafted by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), arguing that it does not do enough to undo the seven-year-old Affordable Care Act. Their neutrality gives the legislation a better chance of passage: If the group of about three dozen hard-right GOP members uniformly opposed the bill, it could block its passage.

Their decision not to act as a bloc frees House leaders and White House officials to persuade individual Freedom Caucus members to support the measure — a process that the Freedom Caucus’s chairman said was ­underway.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Ryan has unlocked the votes from HFC members yet. Its leader, Rep. Mark Meadows, told The Hill that he’s still opposed to the bill himself:

The House changes – which come in the form of a manager’s amendment – also contain nods to calls from lawmakers to increase tax credits for older people to address projected cost spikes under the GOP bill, without actually making that change. Instead, the House bill would enact a different, placeholder provision to increase a medical tax deduction, with roughly the same cost, $85 billion over 10 years.

House lawmakers say they then expect the Senate will actually codify the change to increase tax credits for people between the ages of 50 and 64.

It is in doubt whether this range of changes will be enough to win the 216 votes needed for the bill to pass on Thursday. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said Monday night that given his understanding of the changes, not enough was altered to bring him and his colleagues on board.

Still, changing the HFC stance to neutral offers a tacit approval for others to vote in favor, or at least to be wooed in that direction. Last night, Donald Trump held a rally in Louisville to demonstrate popular support for the AHCA. Today Trump’s bringing that message to Capitol Hill to do some direct wooing — or as Meadows puts it, to whip the vote “with a whip that’s about 10 feet long and five feet wide.”

Or maybe a better way of putting it is to have the coffee ready — because coffee is for closers:

On Tuesday morning, the president will head to Capitol Hill in an attempt to seal up House Republican support for the health insurance legislation, just two days before the most important congressional vote of his young presidency.

“He’s been working. He’s the closer,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said Monday on MSNBC. “He knows how to put this together. He’s got great negotiating skills, and we’re coming together with it.”

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who huddled with Trump at the White House Monday, echoed those remarks during a TV interview, calling Trump “a great closer.”

“He’s the one who has helped negotiate changes to this bill with members from all over our caucus,” Ryan said on “Fox New Sunday.” “We have a president who is rolling up his sleeves. … He’s a very quick learner on healthcare.”

Trump might be riding to Ryan’s rescue too, but it won’t be over even if Ryan manages to get the win later this week on the floor vote. If the Senate stalls on the AHCA and leaves the House hanging, Ryan will face a huge backlash from his members over the push to pass the bill. Trump had better plan to stick around for some Senate lobbying if he expects to get a bill he can sign.