By Scott Wong and Peter Sullivan
March 22, 2017
President Trump gave his word Wednesday to a group of 18 House Republicans that he would publicly call on the Senate to amend the House GOP’s healthcare bill to include the repeal of ObamaCare’s “essential health benefits,” sources in the meeting told The Hill.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is on board with the plan, top Trump aides told the lawmakers gathered at the White House.
The elimination of ObamaCare’s essential health benefits has been a central sticking point in negotiations between the White House and conservative holdouts in the House Freedom Caucus.
The essential health benefits mandate which health services insurance plans must cover. Conservatives say scrapping those requirements is necessary to drive down premiums.
It’s unclear whether the Senate option could win over enough Freedom Caucus members to push the bill through the House. Some support the idea, while others remain unmoved in their opposition.
Currently, 24 House Republicans say they will vote no on the plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare, and the GOP can only afford 21 defections in the House.
During the Oval Office meeting, Trump committed to doing everything he could to repeal the benefits in the Senate. That pledge was enough to bring one key conservative House holdout — Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) — on board.
Trump and King shook hands after the president made the announcement, people in the meeting said.
King “committed to vote for the bill after the president made the commitment to come out publicly and call for the essential health benefits to be added in the [Senate] manager’s amendment,” Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), a Trump ally and member of the GOP whip team, told The Hill.
“There’s a firm, firm commitment from the majority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, that he will offer a manager’s amendment to strike out the mandates that are written into ObamaCare,” King said a short time later on Facebook Live.
“I have a full and firm commitment, with many witnesses, from President Trump that he will use his political leverage, to go public and work hard to get the Mitch McConnell amendment passed, which just takes a simple majority in the Senate, and it would comply with the reconciliation package,” King added.
Despite King’s assurance, however, there is still some question as to whether the essential health benefits can be repealed under Senate rules that allow Republicans to avoid a filibuster, though the chamber appears willing to try.
The fast-track Senate process of reconciliation can only be used for measures affecting the budget, and it is unclear if an argument can be made that repealing the essential health benefits does so.
Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) told The Hill the issue also came up during a separate White House meeting with Vice President Pence on Wednesday.
“That was talked about this morning with the vice president,” the Freedom Caucus member told The Hill. “I think a lot of people are apprehensive about waiting for something to happen in the Senate.”
But Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) continued to call on leaders to “start over” on the plan, even after the White House meeting, and said the votes are not there to pass the bill Thursday.
Asked whether McConnell would go along with the plan, Hudson said the majority leader “is committed to putting essential health benefits piece in there. That’s what I was told.”
Spokespeople for McConnell, King and the White House did not immediately respond.
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