GOP Moderates Balking At Conservatives' Health Care Deal With White House

A fight over pre-existing conditions has imperiled an already imperiled bill.
Rep. Mark Meadows suggested it's not his Freedom Caucus' fault.
Rep. Mark Meadows suggested it's not his Freedom Caucus' fault.

WASHINGTON ― A theoretical deal between House Republicans and the White House to bring back their stalled health care bill is already running into the same old problem: reality.

Conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus looked ready to accept a proposal from the Trump administration that would allow states to opt out of key requirements in the Affordable Care Act ― namely, the essential health benefits and community rating provisions. The latter, in particular, ensures that sick people are not charged more than the healthy ― which is a key component of the Obamacare guarantee of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions that Republicans promised to retain.

But GOP leadership spent a good part of Tuesday hearing from moderates who said they could not accept such changes. While those rank-and-file moderates were publicly telling reporters they’d be willing to look at the legislative text of the proposal, some of them told The Huffington Post privately that the community rating change would be a non-starter for them.

Even aides to normally reliable Republican members said gutting pre-existing condition protections would force their bosses to vote no.

And that puts GOP leaders in the same familiar position they’ve been in for weeks now: How do they win over recalcitrant conservatives in the Freedom Caucus who are insisting on changes that could send moderates fleeing from the bill?

As of early Tuesday evening, there was still no legislative text for members to review ― the White House had promised to send over text at 8:30 that night ― and lawmakers from all corners of the GOP were wondering what the amendments might look like, particularly considering the newfound opposition to the community rating change.

But conservatives were still holding out hope that the administration wouldn’t go back on its offer.

“I’ve read reports that this deal is falling apart because the Freedom Caucus has made demands too onerous,” caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told HuffPost on Tuesday night. “And those reports are based on a confidential GOP aide, which is not representative of the facts, and they’re a total fabrication.”

Meadows said that conservatives seemed likely to accept the deal that Vice President Mike Pence laid out to the group on Monday night, which would allow states to opt out of the community rating requirement and the 10 essential health benefits. But he worried that the deal might falter because moderates and GOP leadership couldn’t swallow the changes ― and that the Freedom Caucus would somehow catch the blame for, once again, moving the goal posts.

Meadows was clear in saying that the Freedom Caucus didn’t make an offer, that the White House came to them after vetting the proposal with moderates, and that moderate Republicans who had signaled their willingness to move forward were now complaining that they couldn’t accept a repeal of those Obamacare requirements.

In essence, though Meadows refused to say it, he was blaming moderates and the White House for now moving the goal posts.

Other Freedom Caucus members told HuffPost on Tuesday just how firm the offer from the White House had seemed to be, with lawmakers and top administration officials getting into policy specifics during their meeting Monday night. When one caucus member asked about the ability of states to obtain waivers of those particular regulations, they said that Andrew Bremberg, the White House director of domestic policy, told them waiver approval would be “pro forma.”

Now, moderates and conservatives are waiting to see what the White House and GOP leadership will come up with. A meeting between some members of the Freedom Caucus, the Republican Study Committee ― a larger but less conservative group ― and the moderate Tuesday Group was still on for Tuesday night. With the text of the proposal expected to drop around 8:30 p.m., there could potentially be a lot for lawmakers to discuss.