The Republican offensive on health care failed. The GOP took almost a decade of grassroots energy, time, and money invested in fighting Obamacare and decided to issue a full retreat on rolling back the law. Tea Party Republicans have every right to be furious. Philip Klein of The Washington Examiner called this “the biggest broken promise in political history,” noting that a) Republicans didn’t even try to grease the wheel when it came to fighting this law; b) it seems they did this to just get elected; and c) gave a rightful hat tip to Obama and the Democrats. They said Obamacare was going to get done—and they got it done. This wasn’t the Greek victory at Troy. It was Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow and more punishment is coming down the pipeline for the GOP from the base.
As pundits and the news media try to pin blame on the Conservative House Freedom Caucus, let’s keep in mind that the moderate Tuesday Group also bolted from this bill, concerned over the funding measures of Medicare and Medicaid. The GOP alternative American Health Care Act initially kept the Medicaid expansion intact, which is one of the most expensive provisions in the Affordable Care Act. It also poisoned the well.
In the end, the White House became more involved (somewhat), House Speaker Paul Ryan leaned on the House Freedom caucus, and even Vice President Mike Pence personally lobbied the group for their support. None of them budged, even after they were winning concessions. Politico added that some members began to feel like they were getting “greedy,” but their vow to never commit to a vote without consulting the group proved to be an unbreakable impasse that not even President Trump could break.
In a conference room in the Rayburn House Office Building, the group met that evening and made a secret pact. No member would commit his vote before consulting with the entire group — not even if Trump himself called to ask for an on-the-spot commitment. The idea, hatched by Freedom Caucus Vice Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), was to bind them together in negotiations and ensure the White House or House leaders could not peel them off one by one.
“They [were] basically saying, ‘We’re going to find all the guys who support it, and we’re all going to hold hands and be a ‘no' on something,’” said a senior Republican source. “It’s ironic because these are the guys who say, ‘I don’t turn my voting card over to leadership. I am the only guy who controls my voting card.' But then they do this stuff, where they say, ‘I can’t because my group is a no.’"
This account of the Freedom Caucus’ central role in the health care showdown is based on interviews with more than two dozen Republican legislators, White House officials and congressional aides.
Their all-for-one strategy bedeviled Ryan’s leadership team and other top White House officials during a frantic whipping operation in the days leading up to the vote. It undermined a key strategy laid out by GOP Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who believed Trump’s personal involvement, including face-to-face negotiations with some lawmakers and groups, would ultimately win over the Freedom Caucus. Trump even subtly threatened their political careers during a closed-door conference meeting three days before the scheduled vote, telling Meadows while winking: “Mark, I’m coming after you.”
New York lawmakers got the “Buffalo bribe,” a provision to stick the state instead of counties with rising health care costs. Leaders bought goodwill from North Carolina and Kansas lawmakers with a ban on new states expanding Medicaid.
Individual lawmakers secured pet initiatives, persuading them to come on board. Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) flipped after Ryan agreed to hold a vote on his bill to require Social Security verification to receive health care tax credits offered by the GOP health plan.
And the White House clinched a deal with the 160-member strong Republican Study Committee by agreeing to its demands on Medicaid and curbing abortions.
But the Freedom Caucus remained elusive.
The members were also buttressed by outside forces. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) repeatedly showed up to Freedom Caucus meetings to remind members that they could take down the bill if they stuck together. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) met privately with caucus members to explain his issues with the bill — though he stopped short of telling them how to vote, sources said. And Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) called at least a dozen conservative House members before the planned vote to urge them to hold firm.
The publication added that when Mick Mulvaney, Office of Management and Budget director, told the HFC to vote for the bill or live Obamacare, some thought they were getting greedy. Ryan later called the leader of the group, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), to ask if the HFC was onboard with the American Health Care Act. He said no, which was when Ryan left to tell Trump the votes were not there for the bill.
Guy mentioned last Friday with Fox News Bret Baier how these divisions within the GOP are also going to spill over in other big-ticket items of Trump’s domestic agenda, especially on tax reform. That’s the next item that could sink due to the same family squabbles.
It’s a cluster. Conservatives are right when they point that Republicans have been moving the goal post for years. The GOP said retake the House and we’ll repeal Obamacare, then it shifted to retaking the Senate in order for this to be successful, then it was we need the presidency because Obama will just veto the repeal bill, and now Trump is president—with a GOP Congress—and we can’t get this done. Yes, this is a victory for Obama and the Democrats. And yes, a bill that repealed 75 percent of Obamacare, with a one-year defunding of Planned Parenthood provision, passed Congress. Obama soon vetoed it, though Republicans actually got the first vestiges of their promise to repeal the law set in motion. They got the legislation out of Congress through reconciliation and onto the president’s desk. What the hell happened with this effort? While the media and anti-Trump Republicans can take digs at the president for failing to seal the deal. It also exposes what he’s said about Washington: All talk, no action. After several years of talking, the GOP took no action. The House Freedom Caucus never forgot their 2009-10 promise to their voters to repeal Obamacare and they held firm on that end. There are some Republicans who want to revisit the issue, but Speaker Ryan was clear: Obamacare and its tax structure is here to stay for the foreseeable future.