WASHINGTON ― It should be an easy vote.
House Republicans have successfully voted to repeal parts of Obamacare ― or the entire thing ― more than 60 times in the last six years. But now that lawmakers could actually be making law, there’s sudden apprehension in parts of the GOP conference.
Republicans generally agree they want the 2010 health care law gone. It’s just that many disagree over what they should replace it with.
Now conservatives and some GOP moderates, concerned that Republicans don’t have a clear plan on how they’ll move forward with an Obamacare alternative, could team up later this week to take down the first real vote in the House to set up a repeal of the law.
Even if lawmakers do, as expected, get behind this vote setting up an Obamacare repeal on Friday, there are already signs that some Republicans may eventually withhold support on a final repeal vote until GOP leadership releases details of an alternative.
Those concerns would be moot in President-elect Donald Trump’s version of the Obamacare repeal and replace, where those actions would happen “essentially simultaneously.” (“Most likely be on the same day or the same week, but probably the same day ― could be the same hour,” Trump said Wednesday, evidently believing in an alternate universe where Congress works like that.)
Here in the real world, where Senate action on any bill generally takes a week and an Obamacare replacement could take months or even years, GOP leaders are trying to convince members to trust that Republicans will be able to come up with something that won’t come back to haunt them. Some members, however, are reluctant to take that leap of faith.
A last-minute whip operation from Freedom Caucus hard-liners has raised new questions about the first vote on Friday. The budget resolution, acting as a vehicle for an Obamacare repeal, advanced out of the Senate early Thursday morning and is supposed to get a vote in the House on Friday.
GOP leadership aides are brushing aside any concerns about the vote going down.
“I feel great,” one GOP leadership aide told The Huffington Post Wednesday night. An aide for House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said Republicans were “looking forward to a good vote.”
All the same, leadership may want to double-check their head count.
Former Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) spent much of the House’s long vote series Wednesday night whipping members of the HFC and talking to conservatives sympathetic to their cause.
“You know our concerns,” Jordan told HuffPost on Wednesday. “We want to make sure we fully repeal it. We want to make sure it happens in two years, not three or four.”
After the evening votes, Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) met with Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), the co-chairman of the moderate GOP Tuesday Group, who said this week that he has “reservations” about voting for a repeal. According to Meadows, he and Dent discussed how many moderates might vote against the resolution to set up a fast-track for an Obamacare repeal.
“This particular budget issue has found common ground between the Tuesday Group and the Freedom Caucus,” Meadows told HuffPost Wednesday night.
Although the two groups have different ideas of what a replacement should look like, both of them want more information from GOP leadership on the Obamacare alternative.
“So the question becomes, will we continue down that path of getting more details quickly after a vote on Friday?” Meadows said.
Meadows suggested that if the Freedom Caucus wanted to take down this first vote, they could ― though some HFC members have questioned whether that’s the best strategy.
Jordan was taking the temperature of conservatives, and there look to be more than a few far-right Republicans who will vote no ― either out of concern over the resolution deeming the addition of more than $9 trillion in new debt as “appropriate” or because leadership has offered few details about a replacement.
Jordan noted that some Republicans are pushing to keep the Obamacare taxes in place. Others are pushing for a longer delay to the date of enactment. And still others are trying to keep Planned Parenthood funding in the health care law. These are all ideas that are anathema to conservatives.
“There are some of our Freedom Caucus guys who are willing to say, ‘Let’s give them a chance to bring something conservative in a replacement,’” Meadows said. “There are some who say, ‘We know what’s coming.’”
“If leadership had not committed to provide additional details to address some of the concerns, only some of the concerns of the Freedom Caucus, we probably would have taken a much harder line,” Meadows added.
Thursday could be a turning point for the vote. If the number of moderates with reservations about repealing reaches a critical mass, conservatives who are undecided or leaning against the bill might come out against it. If moderates get on board, conservatives might decide to go along on Friday as well.
Freedom Caucus leaders can keep a close eye on where their members stand using a private website they created ― whipteam.com ― to group-text members and find out which way they’re voting.
Even if the vote on Friday goes smoothly, this would just be the first in a series of votes to repeal and replace Obamacare. In some ways, this should be the easiest vote. Republicans are merely setting up the process to begin a repeal. But as they grapple with more details about a replacement, and as leadership tries to push a repeal through before Republicans ever start debating a replacement ― or even hold a hearing on the impact of getting rid of Obamacare ― a once-easy messaging vote might prove more difficult than leaders have let on.