House Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., second from left, and others, participates in a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 12, 2017, to say that his group wants to delay the traditional August recess until work is accomplished on health care, the debt ceiling and tax reform. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Wednesday he will be “very angry” if the Senate fails to pass a revamped Republican health care bill and said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell must “pull it off,” intensifying pressure on party leaders laboring to win over unhappy GOP senators and preserve the teetering measure.
Trump’s remarks came a day before McConnell, R-Ky., planned to release his revised legislation to a closed-door meeting of GOP senators. The new legislation provides additional money aimed at easing some of the initial Medicaid cuts and makes other changes aimed at nailing down support, but internal GOP disputes lingered that were threatening to sink it.
With all Democrats set to vote no, McConnell was moving toward a do-or-die roll call next week on beginning debate, a motion that will require backing from 50 of the 52 GOP senators.
Conservative Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said Wednesday he would oppose the motion and moderate Republican Susan Collins of Maine seemed all but sure to do the same — leaving McConnell with zero margin for error to sustain his party’s goal of toppling President Barack Obama’s health care law. Several other GOP senators were holdouts as well, leaving McConnell and his lieutenants just days to win them over or face a major defeat.
In a White House interview conducted Wednesday for the Christian Broadcasting Network’s “The 700 Club,” Trump said it was time for action by congressional Republicans who cast scores of votes “that didn’t mean anything” to repeal the 2010 law while Obama was still president.
“Well, I don’t even want to talk about it because I think it would be very bad,” he said when network founder Pat Robertson what would happen if the effort fails. “I will be very angry about it and a lot of people will be very upset.”
Asked if McConnell would succeed, Trump said, “Mitch has to pull it off.”
Trump has played a limited role in cajoling GOP senators to back the legislation. Asked Wednesday about the president’s involvement, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters the White House was providing “technical assistance.”
McConnell’s new bill was expected to offer only modest departures from the original version.
Its key elements remain easing Obama’s requirements that insurers cover specified services like hospital care and cutting the Medicaid health care program for the poor, disabled and nursing home patients. Obama’s penalties on people who don’t buy coverage would be eliminated, federal health care subsidies would be less generous and there would be $45 billion to help states combat drug abuse.
The new package would eliminate tax increases the statute imposed on the health care industry. But it would retain Obama tax boosts on upper-income people, and use the revenue to help some lower earners afford coverage.
Paul told reporters that the revised measure didn’t go far enough.
“I don’t see anything in here really remotely resembling repeal,” he said.
Collins has long complained the measure will toss millions off coverage. Spokeswoman Annie Clarke said Collins would vote no next week “if the Medicaid cuts remain the same” as those that have been discussed.
Besides Paul and Collins, at least two other Republican senators publicly said they hadn’t decided whether to back McConnell on the initial vote: conservative Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Tim Scott, R-S.C.
Cruz is chief author of a proposal backed by other conservatives that would let an insurer sell low-premium, bare-bones policies as long as the company also sold a plan covering all the services — like substance abuse treatment — required by Obama’s law.
Cruz’s plan has alienated moderates worried it will mean unaffordable coverage for people with serious medical conditions because healthier people would flock to cheaper, skimpier plans. Party leaders have not determined if Cruz’s plan will be in their measure, and there have been talks over altering it to limit premium boosts on full-coverage policies.
“If there are not meaningful protections for consumer freedom that will significantly lower premiums then the bill will not have the votes to go forward,” Cruz told reporters.
His proposal endured another blow when the insurance industry’s largest trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, said it would lead to “unstable health insurance markets” and said people with serious pre-existing medical conditions could “lose access” to comprehensive or reasonably priced coverage.
Scott said he was still trying to determine if the legislation would help families and consumers with pre-existing medical problems.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who has fought to ease the bill’s Medicaid reductions, has also yet to commit to back the measure next week.
McConnell withdrew an initial package two weeks ago in the face of Republican discord that would have spelled certain defeat.
AP reporters Erica Werner, Jill Colvin and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.
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