- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2017

House conservatives emerged Wednesday from a Capitol Hill meeting with Vice President Mike Pence saying they are “optimistic” they can bend the Obamacare replacement to their liking before a final vote.

Mr. Pence huddled with the Republican Study Committee, an influential bloc of 170 GOP members, for about 40 minutes to discuss the group’s wish-list for the plan, which leaders are pushing through the House despite vocal rifts within the party.

The RSC wants a “manager’s amendment” teased by the White House to freeze Obamacare’s vast expansion of Medicaid insurance for the poor by 2018, instead of 2020, while requiring able-bodied, childless adults on the program to work, volunteer or be in school.

They also want federal matching funds for Medicaid and refundable, age-based tax credits in the GOP replacement plan to grow more slowly over time, while letting people use tax-advantage health savings accounts to pay for their premiums.

Finally, they want to repeal all of Obamacare’s taxes as soon as possible, rather than waiting until next year.



“I think most guys would have to walk away feeling optimistic about the process,” RSC Chairman Mark Walker, North Carolina Republican, said after the Pence meeting.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Wednesday he’s open to “improvement and refinements” to the GOP’s health bill as he and President Trump try to win back conservatives — and risk alienating even more moderates in the Senate who say the legislation is already too severe in kicking people out of coverage.

“We’re going through the process here. We feel very good where we are. We’re making the kinds of improvements and refinements that we think make this bill better,” Mr. Ryan told Fox Business Channel, while saying the “major components” will remain intact.

House Budget Chairman Diane Black, Tennessee Republican, told MSNBC on Wednesday she is “confident” the bill will advance out of a Thursday markup before her panel.

The committee mostly is charged with fusing GOP bills into a package that can avoid a Democratic filibuster later on, but she cannot afford to lose more than a few members from her 22-to-14 majority.

Moving forward, the RSC said it hopes their priorities will make it into the manager’s amendment when the package reaches the Rules Committee, which sets the terms and conditions of floor debate.

The Congressional Budget Office says the GOP plan would result in 24 million fewer people holding insurance a decade from now, complicating the task before GOP leaders who want to keep their promise to repeal Obamacare and move on to tax reform.

The CBO says the plan would save more than $300 billion, but it still amounts to a big-government entitlement for conservative lawmakers, whose votes are critical yet probably can’t be won without forfeiting the likes of Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, who said she will not vote for a plan that slashes coverage and funds for the poor and elderly.

Rep. Leonard Lance, New Jersey Republican, said he cannot vote for a plan that won’t make it through the Senate, where Republicans are mulling ways to soften the edges of the plan.

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