WASHINGTON – They can’t both be right.
But, both sides in the battle over the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare claim to be gaining crucial votes on the eve of the scheduled vote in the House.
Only 22 Republican votes are needed to kill the bill in the House, presuming all Democrats vote against it, and conservatives say they have more than enough.
A source in the conservative House Freedom Caucus, or HFC, told WND it now has 28 Republican votes against the bill. The day before, the source told WND the group had 25 votes.
However, at the White House daily press briefing Wednesday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the bill backed by the president was gaining votes and that he, and President Trump, are confident it will pass.
Spicer said the White House was encouraged by the “trajectory” of the battle for votes, because the bill was gaining support from conservatives who previously planned to vote against it.
However, HFC chair Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said after a White House meeting Wednesday that opposition was still strong and, “There’s not enough votes to pass this.”
“Nothing’s changed,” he emphasized. “They don’t have the votes to pass this tomorrow. We believe that they need to start over and do a bill that actually reduces premiums.”
Meadows said that during a group meeting with Vice President Mike Pence at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Wednesday, conservatives were offered “a couple of options,” but there were “no official offers tendered on either side.”
After the meeting, other HFC members said they could not accept revisions floated by Pence because the administration could only offer the prospect of future changes once the bill was taken up in the Senate.
“There have been promises of hopes that something constructive might happen in the Senate, but that’s after we vote, and that’s not going to work,” explained Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala.
Appearing on Fox Wednesday evening, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas made it clear that conservatives’ beef was not with the president.
“He is a treat to work with, he really wants to do what is right for the American people, and then it seems like it is tougher dealing with our own leadership than with the president,” observed Gohmert.
However, the White House has been holding meetings with small groups of conservatives, trying to peel them from the core group adamantly opposed to the American Health Care Act.
That’s led to some success, claimed House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., one of the prime architects of the bill, who said, “We’ve been adding Freedom Caucus votes to this bill all week.”
“We’re adding votes by the day,” Ryan claimed, adding, “We’re not losing votes, we’re adding votes, and we feel like we’re getting really, really close.”
However, the major media seemed to find the HFC head count more plausible.
Reuters ran a story headlined, “Trump appears to be losing battle ahead of healthcare vote.”
The Washington Post headline read, “GOP health-care plan, facing conservative revolt, lacks the votes for House passage.”
Conservatives have scorched the bill as “Obamacare lite,” contending it is not a true repeal of the Affordable Care Act or an adequate replacement that will lower costs and increase consumer choices. They argue it maintains insurance subsidies, mandates, taxes and insurance company bailouts.
Politico ran a story Tuesday headlined “Trump to Republicans: Vote for Obamacare repeal or lose your seat” that reported the president had delivered a stern warning to conservatives that they could lose re-election races if they oppose the bill pushed by GOP congressional leadership and the White House.
Spicer downplayed that Tuesday. On Wednesday, he reiterated that Trump wasn’t saying he would punish or campaign against any GOP lawmaker who voted against the bill.
Spicer said the president was just trying to describe a political reality that voters would punish politicians who failed to keep their promise to repeal and replace Obamacare.
But the HFC source told WND just the opposite could turn out to be true, and the passage of the bill could hurt all Republicans because a bill that leads to rising health-insurance premiums would be a “setup for failure” in the 2018 elections.
That was still true, according to the source, even after GOP House leaders rolled out more changes Tuesday, including one intended to make it easier for older Americans to purchase insurance by creating even more tax credits to offset higher premiums.
The source said, “This is just a bad bill,” and there’s no way most HFC members can support it without more substantial changes.
Politico reported that after Meadows visited Trump at his Florida resort over the weekend to discuss changes favored by conservatives, the White House had signaled that “negotiations were closing, and conservatives had gotten all the concessions they would.”
If that is true, and the HFC source is correct, conservatives will kill the bill scheduled to come up for a House vote Thursday.
The source also noted, even if the bill were to pass in the House, the numbers do not favor passage in the Senate.
It would take only 51 votes to pass in that chamber, but there are only 52 GOP senators. And four of them oppose the bill: Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky.; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Tom Cotton, R-Ark.; and Mike Lee, R-Utah.
Conservatives opposed to the health-care bill designed by Ryan and other House leaders and pushed by the president would rather just see Obamacare repealed in its entirety and then deal with replacement.
The bill appeared even less likely to pick up converts after conservatives were incensed to learn Tuesday that GOP leaders had just dropped a provision from the legislation cracking down on illegal immigrants getting federal health-insurance coverage.