- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2017

House Republican leaders sold their Obamacare replacement plan Friday as a “thoughtful foundation” for future reforms that will drive down health costs, heaping pressure on GOP holdouts who say the plan doesn’t go far enough.

“We’re not stopping here. This is just the beginning of our work,” Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, Texas Republican, said.

His panel and the Energy and Commerce Committee approved their parts of the plan this week after more than 40 hours of combined debate, during which Democrats used procedural tricks to stall debate and made ill-fated attempts to preserve key parts of Obamacare.

“We had an open process, where everybody who had amendments could offer them,” Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden, Oregon Republican said.

The House Budget Committee plans to meet Wednesday to begin fusing the twin bills into legislation that uses arcane budget rules to avoid a Democratic filibuster in the Senate, assuming it can get through the House.

Yet a number of House conservatives still say the plan creates a new entitlement and an “individual mandate” through insurers, while letting states that expanded Medicaid to tap federal coffers for too long.

They want to freeze Obamacare’s vast expansion of Medicaid insurance for the poor in 31 states in 2018, rather than in 2020, as leaders envision.

Centrist Senate Republicans are already looking to preserve the expansion in their states, however, and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said moving up the freeze would be “difficult to do.”

That will disappoint the Republican Study Committee, a bloc of 170 conservatives who said Medicaid changes could help win their support for the broader package. They had hoped the issue would be settled in the Energy and Commerce Committee, but it was not.

“Ending Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion is a priority for conservatives. We believe this can get back on the right track before the bill comes to the floor,” RSC Executive Director Scott Parkinson said Thursday.

Conservatives also want to ensure that Obamacare regulations requiring insurers to cover an array of services are dismantled, though leaders said they have to patient, because the budget process limits what they can do.

The White House is trying to referee the divide by urging GOP troops to get on the board with the plan, while leaving the door open to “negotiations” over the final package, though congressional leaders insisted that’s OK.

“I never find it unhelpful that members express themselves,” Mr. McCarthy told reporters.

Mr. Trump and Republican leaders cannot afford to lose more than 21 Republican votes in the House or more than two in the Senate because they won’t get any help from Democrats, who say the plan will force poorer Americans to pay more for skimpier coverage.

They say areas that voted for Mr. Trump in large numbers will be hit especially hard, yet Republican leaders are charging forward, saying the Affordable Care Act ushered in soaring premiums and dwindling choices in the individual market.

“If you want to repeal Obamacare, this bill does it,” House Budget Chairman Diane Black, Tennessee Republican, said, noting it sets the table for future reforms. “We hope that our Democrats on the other side of the aisle, the Democrats, will join us.”

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