WASHINGTON — The White House’s favored legislation to replace Obamacare passed the House by the thinnest of margins today, with 20 Republicans voting against the American Health Care Act and the Democratic caucus holding together in opposition.
The final tally was 217-213; GOP leaders needed to wrangle at least 216 votes to meet the threshold for passage.
One of the votes to change from a “no” to a “yes” since the previous attempt at passing the AHCA — pulled from the floor in March shortly before a scheduled vote as leaders knew it didn’t have the support — was House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.).
The bill was brought to the floor without a score from the Congressional Budget Office. Some lawmakers refused to answer reporters’ questions about whether they had read the entire bill.
“Let’s put it this way: People in my office have read all parts of the bill,” Rep. Thomas Garrett (R-Va.) told MSNBC. “I don’t think any individual has read the whole bill. That’s why we have staff.”
The head count from the GOP’s whip team held as they expected a slim victory with no margin for error.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said his party followed through “on the commitment we made to the American people that we would repeal the devastating elements of Obamacare” and replace it.
As the clock ran down on the vote, Democrats who vowed payback at the polls in 2018 sang “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” while waving at their colleagues on the other side of the aisle. Republican lawmakers cheered and congratulated each other after the tally was announced.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) predicted at a press conference before the vote that Republicans “really lose if they pass it, because then you can clearly say this is not an intention, this is a decision that they have made and acted upon — voted upon.”
“They are deluding themselves into thinking that they can hide the truth or hide from their constituents when they take their votes,” Pelosi said. “So we welcome them to this great civics class. You can see, since the election, there’s been a heightened interest in what goes on in public policy and how it affects people in their personal lives. We look forward to having that debate.”
One of the Republican “no” votes, Rep. Dave Reichert (Wash.), said the bill, which allows states to seek a waiver for the Obamacare provision that prevents insurers from charging more if the insured have pre-existing conditions, “falls short” of “protecting the most vulnerable in our communities, including children on Medicaid, people with pre-existing conditions, and older Americans.”
“With all of the political banter surrounding this bill, it can be difficult to remember that this decision ultimately comes down to people. We need to know our loved ones can get and afford the care they need, regardless of age, income, or health status,” Reichert added. “And we need to know that changes made by our government, even to a failing system, will not leave our friends, families, and neighbors worse off.”
Next comes the Senate, where the bill faces a tougher road and won’t be considered without a CBO score, GOP leaders confirmed, and where it will likely face significant rewrites.
Just one of the hurdles: analyses of the original AHCA showed Alaska would fare the worst by far under the proposed new healthcare system. Both senators from Alaska are Republicans.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said this week that the amendment House Republicans added to make the bill more palatable on pre-existing conditions, adding more funding to help address the high-risk pool shortfall, was “like administering cough medicine to someone with stage 4 cancer.”
“High-risk pools are the real death panels: they mean waiting forever in line for unaffordable health insurance,” Schumer added.
Today, Schumer vowed the bill “is going nowhere fast” in the Senate.
“Rather than trying to pass a different version of the same Trumpcare bill that would mean higher costs and less care, Senate Republicans should refuse to follow their House colleagues over a cliff, reject repeal, and work with Democrats to improve our healthcare system in a bipartisan way,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) issued a statement expressing his commitment to repealing and replacing Obamacare, calling House action “an important step” but not indicating he’d try for AHCA passage as-is.
“As Congress considers this legislation, the administration will continue working to deliver relief and stabilize health markets, and Congress will continue to act on legislation to provide more choices and freedom in health care decisions,” McConnell said.
“The status quo is unacceptable. The pain caused by Obamacare is real for millions of Americans. We must repeal and replace this failed law.”
After House passage, GOP leaders and some Congress members went over to the White House for a celebratory Rose Garden press conference with President Trump and Vice President Pence.
“What a great group of people and they’re not even doing it for the party, they’re doing it for this country,” Trump said of the GOPs, adding he feels “so confident” of Senate passage. “Make no mistake, this is a repeal and replace of Obamacare.”