WASHINGTON ― House Republican leaders, scrambling to find sufficient support for their revived health care plan, are running into the same problem they’ve had for weeks: They’re still short on the votes.
Republicans have won over just about every conservative they’re going to get after an amendment brokered between moderate Tuesday Group co-chairman Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) and conservative House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) brought the vast majority of the Freedom Caucus aboard. But GOP leaders are failing to convince reluctant moderates that they should support a bill undermining protections for people with pre-existing conditions ― and they’re making a whole lot of rank-and-file Republicans nervous.
According to a HuffPost whip count based on interviews with lawmakers and staffers with knowledge of the votes, there are 17 Republicans who appear firmly against the new version of the health care bill and 10 Republicans who seem to be leaning against it. There are also at least 11 other GOP lawmakers who report being undecided and could very well vote no.
Republicans can afford to lose only 22 of their members, assuming every member votes and every Democrat votes against the proposal. With Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) expected to miss at least a week for foot surgery, Republicans could pass the bill if they lost 21 Republicans, assuming Chaffetz is absent. There is the possibility that leadership convinces a Republican member or two to simply miss the vote, and other absences on the Democratic side could help the GOP, but the rough math is that Republicans can’t lose more than two dozen of their own, and they appear to be losing more than that now.
It’s that uncertainty that’s preventing House Republicans from speeding to a vote on their revised health care plan. While leaders seem like they could be within a few votes of passing the bill, bringing the proposal to the floor could be disastrous, particularly if fence-sitting Republicans see that it’s going down and decide to join the majority.
Thursday was a turning point for leadership. Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) spent time on the House floor working members. But instead of flipping votes, members seemed to be walking away from conversations just as resolute in their reservations as before.
After a 12-minute conversation with McHenry on the floor, reliable Republican vote Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) reported that he was “not a no” on the bill but “not a yes.”
“Still working through it,” he said.
Another dependable leadership ally, Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), told HuffPost he was now undecided on the bill, after he slammed the Freedom Caucus last month in a New York Times op-ed for holding out on the health care bill and preventing Republicans from repealing Obamacare.
“The Freedom Caucus play, obviously, it’s what we’ve known them to do a lot,” Kinzinger said of the changes to the bill. “So it wasn’t surprising; it’s disappointing.”
Other Republicans who previously supported the bill were expressing new concern Thursday, with many Republicans uncomfortable with giving states the authority to let insurers opt of charging people with pre-existing conditions the same as healthy people.
“I’m not seeing how this new language, this proposed new language, does anything but make the bill worse, not better,” said Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.).
“Every time I read it, there are more red flags that keep popping up,” he said.
Another moderate Republican who spoke to HuffPost on the condition of anonymity so he could discuss the dynamics more candidly, said a number of Republicans who were supporting the previous bill now didn’t want to take the vote at all, preferring to not go on record because leaders were now asking them to either go back on their promises on pre-existing conditions or to oppose repealing Obamacare.
“That’s certainly not a vote I want to take,” the member said.
In that spirit of avoiding going on the record, other members were cagey about where they stand on the new bill.
Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), who may have dealt the previous version of the bill its death blow when he came out in opposition, refused to talk at all about where he stands on Thursday. And a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) told The Hill that Royce is also now undecided and has serious concerns.
That two prominent chairman would not be offering their endorsement of the legislation, however, shows just how deep the reservations in the conference run. The universe of opposition may be much larger than anyone really knows. For instance, Scalise spent roughly 10 minutes talking to Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) on Thursday, and McHenry was working on Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.).
Even with a number of potentially surprising holdouts, the one advantage GOP leadership has is that there is still plenty of money to play with. The latest Congressional Budget Office estimate says the bill would save $150 billion over the next 10 years. One way to win over moderates would be to further add money to high-risk pools to shore up coverage for sick people. Another way is to simply add more kickbacks to states, like the Buffalo Buyout.
But even with those sorts of deals, there seems to be a core group of moderates who will remain opposed. The Freedom Caucus’ theory all along has been that those members would cave under pressure from leadership and President Donald Trump. We may soon get to test that.
Here is the current HuffPost whip count on the latest version of the GOP health care proposal. This whip count is based on conversations with lawmakers and staffers with knowledge of how members are voting. Not every lawmaker on this list has confirmed how they will vote ― this is our best guess:
Mark Amodei (Nevada)
Barbara Comstock (Virginia)
Ryan Costello (Pennyslvania)
Jeff Denham (California)
Charlie Dent (Pennsylvania)
Dan Donovan (New York)
Brian Fitzpatrick (Pennyslvania)
Jaime Herrera Beutler (Washington)
Walter Jones (North Carolina)
John Katko (New York)
Leonard Lance (New Jersey)
Frank LoBiondo (New Jersey)
Thomas Massie (Kentucky)
Patrick Meehan (Pennyslvania)
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Florida)
Chris Smith (New Jersey)
David Young (Iowa)
Lean No (10)
Andy Biggs (Arizona)
Rod Blum (Iowa)
Carlos Curbelo (Florida)
Mario Diaz-Balart (Florida)
Paul Gosar (Arizona)
David Joyce (Ohio)
Michael Turner (Ohio)
David Valadao (California)
Daniel Webster (Florida)
Rob Wittman (Virginia)
Justin Amash (Michigan)
Mike Coffman (Colorado)
Paul Cook (California)
Rick Crawford (Arkansas)
Rodney Frelinghuysen (New Jersey)
Adam Kinzinger (Illinois)
Erik Paulsen (Minnesota)
Ed Royce (California)
Elise Stefanik (New York)
Fred Upton (Michigan)
Kevin Yoder (Kansas)