- The Washington Times - Friday, March 17, 2017

President Trump said Friday that he’s winning over Republican lawmakers who were opposed to the administration-backed health care bill to replace and repeal Obamacare, and he predicted the measure will now pass the House.

Meeting with members of the Republican Study Committee in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump told reporters that “we made certain changes” in all-night negotiations with Congress.

“These folks were mostly ‘no’s‘ yesterday,” Mr. Trump said, gesturing to the group of about a dozen GOP lawmakers. “And now every single one is a ‘yes.’”

The influential bloc of conservatives said Mr. Trump committed to two key changes in the plan — giving states the option to impose work requirements on able-bodied people who get Medicaid, the insurance program for the poor, and letting governors accept a block grant of federal funding for the program instead of a per-capita allotment.

RSC Chairman Mark Walker of North Carolina said he would still like to make the work requirements mandatory, but that the president’s pledges were enough to win members over.

“We went ahead and signed off on it, supporting the president and the vice president, who were both in the room in the Oval Office this morning,” he said.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana said the changes bolster leaders’ chances of getting the 216 GOP votes needed to pass the bill, though members of the hardline House Freedom Caucus have said they want more drastic changes and may still be able to block the bill.

“Absolutely not true that conservatives have flipped to yes on the health care bill. It doesn’t repeal Obamacare. It remains a disaster,” Rep. Justin Amash, Michigan Republican, said on Twitter.

Those members could face more pointed pressure from Mr. Trump, however, now that he’s predicting victory.

“These changes definitely strengthen our number, but also show that President Trump’s all in now,” Mr. Scalise said outside the House chamber.

The lawmakers meeting with Mr. Trump were Mr. Walker and Rep. Patrick Henry, both of North Carolina; Mr. Scalise; Reps. Robert Aderholt and Gary Palmer of Alabama; Andy Barr of Kentucky; Jim Banks of Indiana; Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee; Blake Farenthold and John Ratcliffe of Texas; Mia Love of Utah; Barry Loudermilk of Georgia and Bruce Westerman of Arkansas.

Mr. Trump himself hadn’t specified what changes would be made to the legislation, but said “we have rejiggered it” to satisfy some of the GOP opponents. One of them, Mr. Palmer, had voted against the bill in the House Budget Committee just a day earlier.

“I want the states to get the money and to run the program if they want to run it, because they can do it better than the federal government,” Mr. Trump said.

The president was so enthused about the development that he brought it up moments later in an unrelated White House meeting on veterans benefits.

“We just had a meeting with probably 12 congressmen, and it was an amazing meeting,” Mr. Trump said. “They all have given me a commitment, they’re voting for our health-care plan. Health care looks like it’s really happening.”

Emerging from the White House, Mr. Scalise said Mr. Trump “asked every member, with these changes, to vote for the bill.”

“President Trump himself committed that he is all in, 100 percent in for this bill,” Mr. Scalise said. “And of all of these members were in various places — some were for, some undecided, some even against this bill initially. With these changes that President Trump has brought to us, [all] are now a ‘yes’ on this bill.”

Yet some lawmakers are still concerned that refundable, age-based tax credits in the plan aren’t generous enough for Americans aged 50 to 64 who will face higher premiums under a part of the bill that allows insurers to charge older customers five times as much as younger ones.

The AARP, an influential lobby for older Americans, sent a letter to all 435 House members on Friday urging them to oppose the health care plan.

“We are still in a negotiation process. Everybody’s still talking. Everybody’s got a lot of good ideas out there, and let’s see what we can put in there before we vote,” said Rep. Roger Williams, Texas Republican.

Republican leaders are hoping to bring up the bill in the House Rules Committee on Wednesday to set the stage for a final floor vote by Friday.

“It’s always better if you know you have the votes, but sometimes you roll the dice like we did with Medicare Part D in 2003,” said Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican, referring to the vote on prescription drug benefits that was held open for three hours to wrangle votes. “I’ve seen it both ways.”

Some Senate Republicans have urged House lawmakers to rewrite the bill, however, saying it can’t pass on their side of the Capitol as written.

House lawmakers insist they won’t bend to their wishes. They said both chambers can work their will before trying to smooth over differences in a conference committee.

“Sometimes I think they’re afraid to vote over there,” Mr. Cole said.

Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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