House Freedom Caucus leaders back new health care plan

Washington Post

White House officials and several Republican lawmakers claimed Tuesday they were nearing a deal on health-care legislation with the House Freedom Caucus, with at least three leading figures in the hard-line group ready to support an overhaul after the dramatic collapse of talks last month.

Reps. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho, - all leaders of the Freedom Caucus and central figures in the latest discussions - signaled Tuesday they are ready to support a new plan, according to two White House officials who were not authorized to speak publicly. A lawmaker close to the Freedom Caucus later confirmed that those members were close to or ready to support the tweaked bill.

Top members of the House Freedom Caucus would say little on Tuesday night about where they stand on the revised measure. Meadows said that he won't weigh in publicly until after the Freedom Caucus meets Wednesday night, but he praised Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., - co-chairman of the centrist Tuesday Group - and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., for their role in trying to reach consensus.

"I'm obviously very supportive of Tom MacArthur and his efforts and Chairman Walden and his efforts," Meadows said. "So I can tell you the efforts they have put forth are to be applauded."

"I may have," is all Labrador would say when asked whether he has decided to support a revised health-care package. "I have not made a public announcement."

"We've got a meeting tomorrow night!" said Jordan, who refused to elaborate.

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., another Freedom Caucus member, stopped short of vouching support for the bill, but said "it seems to me it is going in a very good direction." He said he needs to see the legislative text before making a final decision.

"I would not be the most shocked person in the building if we voted it this week out of the House," Franks said.

A top aide to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said he "hasn't ruled out" a vote on a health-care bill this week, but that his top priority is passing a spending measure to keep the government funded. If consensus on health care were reached, however, the House could move quickly, said spokeswoman AshLee Strong.

"I think we can turn things around quickly if we were to reach an agreement," she said. "We will see something as soon as we can, but we're not there right now."

Top GOP aides said that text of the new bill probably won't be posted until House Republicans feel confident that they have enough votes to pass the bill.

Rep. David Brat, R-Va., a Freedom Caucus member who previously opposed the GOP health-care plan, said he is "looking forward" to supporting it with the new changes giving states more options.

"A lot of people like it," Brat told reporters Tuesday night.

The agreement at the crux of the revised bill would allow states to opt out of some insurance regulations in the Affordable Care Act. Through a federal waiver, insurers could be freed from a requirement to cover certain essential health benefits as defined by the federal government. And while they would still be required to cover people with preexisting conditions, they could charge those patients higher premiums.

 

The language was crafted jointly in recent days by MacArthur and Meadows, who heads the Freedom Caucus, with White House officials involved in those conversations, officials said.

White House officials said Tuesday that MacArthur made clear during the discussions that he wanted states such as New Jersey to be able to keep some mandates under the law, while Meadows wanted states to have the choice of opting out of the insurance requirements.

Any new proposal would have to surmount the same obstacles that stalled the House GOP leadership's plan before Congress left for a two-week recess in early April.

"The key to getting this across the finish line doesn't rest with the Tuesday Group. It rests with the Freedom Caucus," Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., a member of the centrist group, said Tuesday.

The president has been fitfully trying to restart health-care talks after Ryan abruptly pulled the American Health Care Act from the floor at the end of March. Trump at first said the health-care issue was dead but then revived talks. Trump seems intent on getting a concrete legislative win, or at least flashes of progress in that direction, as his administration approaches the 100-day mark.

Republicans close to House GOP leaders said Tuesday they remain skeptical of how much support would be behind any new legislation, and said House leaders are not driving the discussions with the Freedom Caucus.

Other Freedom Caucus members, such as Brat, told reporters Tuesday evening that they are likely to support the compromise, while others declined to comment, saying they have not yet seen the proposal.

Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., a deficit hawk and Freedom Caucus member who opposed the AHCA, said he would review the amendment.

"Essential benefits and all the other mandates may be affordable in a wealthy state, but unaffordable in a poorer state like Mississippi or Alabama that causes people to go from some insurance to no health insurance," Brooks said.

The carrot for conservatives is the opportunity for states to apply for waivers from some of the ACA's mandates, including its requirement for insurers to cover essential health benefits and its ban on swelling premiums for people with preexisting health conditions. Many conservatives don't like leaving the law's insurance regulations in place, but the waiver provision allows them to argue that they're giving states more control over the situation.

But the revisions would also restore the law's federal essential health benefits requirements for states that don't obtain a waiver from them. The original bill would have turned over those regulations completely to the states.

The Washington Post's Sean Sullivan and David Weigel contributed to this report.

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