On Tuesday, the conservative nonprofit Club for Growth issued a statement attacking the Senate Republicans’ health care bill as “restoring,” rather than repealing and replacing, Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The statement revealed how divided conservatives are on the legislation, with other conservative nonprofits tiptoeing around the issue.
“For seven long years, Americans have waited for health care reform that would repeal the disaster that is Obamacare,” Club for Growth President David McIntosh said in the statement. “The Club for Growth and the American people took Republicans in Congress at their word when they promised to repeal every word — ‘root and branch’ — of Obamacare and replace it with a patient-centered approach to health care.”
McIntosh attacked the legislation before the Senate, the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, as a restoration, rather than a repeal, of Obamacare. “Only in Washington does repeal translate to restore,” he said. “Because that’s exactly what the Senate GOP healthcare bill does: it restores Obamacare. And while it’s hard to imagine, in some ways the Senate’s legislation would make our nation’s failing healthcare system worse.”
He further added that the Senate “has produced Obamacare-lite.” The Club for Growth president highlighted four key problems in the bill.
First, he noted that it is a $292 billion tax increase over the House version, H.R. 1628, the American Health Care Act of 2017. He also argued that the bill “punts” the difficult task of Medicaid reforms, which “will bankrupt future generations due to Senate Republicans’ lack of political courage.” McIntosh also said the bill also would leave untouched Obamacare’s most onerous regulations, which drove up premiums and deductibles. Finally, he attacked the bill for creating Republican mandates and penalties.
McIntosh was not the only conservative to attack the bill. “We’re disappointed lawmakers haven’t done more to improve health care, but we remain committed to working with them to make progress,” Freedom Partners Vice President of Policy Nathan Nascimento told PJ Media. “We worked with the House to improve the AHCA, and we’ll continue to work with the Senate to improve its legislation. But, regardless of the final text, we will still have a lot of work to do to fix healthcare.”
Nascimento’s comments revealed a conservative nonprofit stuck between the Scylla of endorsing a flawed piece of legislation and the Charybdis of stopping all possible improvements to health care. As the saying goes, “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
Tensions are high on the issues. At least one conservative donor threatened to remove funding for Republicans in Congress if they fail to act on health care and taxes. Speaking in Colorado Springs, Colo., outside the Koch donor network’s gathering, Texas-based donor Doug Deason said the “Dallas piggy bank” is closed until Republicans pass meaningful reform.
“Get Obamacare repealed and replaced, get tax reform passed,” Deason said. “You control the Senate. You control the House. You have the presidency. There’s no reason you can’t get this done. Get it done and we’ll open it back up.”
Yahoo News reported that billionaire conservatives warned “of a rapidly shrinking window to push their agenda through Congress and get legislation to President Donald Trump to sign into law.” The most important issues for the Koch network (of which Freedom Partners and the larger Americans for Prosperity are a part) were to overhaul the tax code and repeal and replace Obamacare.
“If they don’t make good on these promises … there are going to be consequences, and quite frankly there should be,” said Sean Lansing, chief operating officer for Americans for Prosperity (AFP).
“There is urgency,” AFP President Tim Phillips explained. “We believe we have a window of about 12 months to get as much of it accomplished as possible before the 2018 elections grind policy to a halt.”
The difficulty is that the Republican conference is very ideologically diverse, with stalwart conservatives (as represented by the Club for Growth and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul) demanding massive reform that might alienate moderates. A further problem? Democrats don’t want to back anything that even nominally “repeals” Obamacare.
In these politically charged times, conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation stop short of full-throatedly endorsing or rejecting the Senate bill.
“While the ongoing congressional effort to reform health care is falling short of repealing Obamacare, it is critical that Congress maximize every opportunity to undo Obamacare’s damage,” Edmund Haislmaier and Robert Moffit, health care policy experts at the Heritage Foundation, said in an article on the Senate bill.
While Haislmaier and Moffit argued that health care reform must be passed quickly, they insisted that “the draft bill released on Thursday by the Senate misses important opportunities to move closer to that objective.”
Nevertheless, they described the current Senate bill as “better than Obamacare because it contains provisions to reduce insurance premiums and promote access to insurance in the short run, cut taxes, and provide major Medicaid reform that will help refocus the program on those most in need.”
Heritage’s position of qualified support, and the urgency of many conservative donors suggests that the Senate will likely feel pressure to pass the bill — or a version like it — regardless of the Club for Growth’s opposition.
Back in March, when the first Republican health care bill was proposed in the House, Heritage Action, Americans for Prosperity, the Club for Growth, and Freedom Partners all opposed the American Health Care Act (AHCA). The House bill was amended, and the groups supported it as it passed the House. This new Senate version has altered the bill yet again, and the current push from the Club for Growth and others suggests a desire to amend this bill as the House bill was amended.
Health care is a complicated issue, and Republicans are in a tough position because they have to repeal and replace Obamacare, but any legislation that does not jumpstart the health market once again is likely going to leave the GOP tied to a weakened health care system. It is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario, and the qualified support of the Heritage Foundation and Freedom Partners suggests there is no easy way out for conservatives.