Speech gives 'new dynamic' to move House GOP Obamacare plan

McConnell: Americans expect Obamacare repeal
McConnell: Americans expect Obamacare repeal

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Story highlights

  • House Republicans are trying to unify their party behind their repealing Obamacare plan
  • Fiscal conservatives appear skeptical and some fear a Medicaid rollback

(CNN)Facing intense backlash from conservative detractors, House Republican leaders' efforts to sell their vision of repealing and replacing Obamacare was well underway Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

House leaders were feeling the wind at their backs after President Donald Trump's address to Congress, where the President endorsed some of the key principles of their plan in a prime-time speech Tuesday night.
House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady told CNN Wednesday morning that there was a "new dynamic" after Trump spoke.
    "He endorsed the key architecture that we needed to keep moving this to the next step in policy making. It was the right boost we need to move the 'repeal and replace' plan that he and his team have privately supported and helped shape," Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry, a Republican from North Carolina, told CNN.
    There is recognition among congressional leaders, however, that the only way to pass a bill is for the House to work hand-in-hand with the Senate and Trump.
    After a meeting at the White House, Wednesday, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, told reporters that "the only way we are going to get this done is to work closely together."
    "You're going to see a lot more coordination (and) much better communication, because I think that's the key to our success."

    Price pitches for House GOP plan

    After Trump's speech, it appeared the new administration had begun doggedly advocating for the House plan.
    Helping boost leaders even more are the administration's personalized efforts to sell the House GOP's plan. A Republican leadership aide confirmed Wednesday that Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price had been making individual calls to members.
    He also makes house calls.
    Price and a couple of aides met earlier Wednesday with North Carolina GOP Rep. Mark Walker, chair of a group of fiscal conservatives who has been publicly critical of the leadership's draft health care bill.
    Walker, who criticized leadership's plan to offer tax credits to help some people buy coverage and advocated for tax deductions instead, essentially admitted that he has given up the fight on that issue and is focused on working on the broader proposal.
    The Republican said Trump's speech was "pretty general" on Obamacare last night, but he added: "There was some kind of inclination there that said, listen, the train has left the station, the tax credits is what we're doing."
    "I think from a consensus standpoint, we're at the foundation. We are no longer talking deductions, we're talking tax credits and Medicaid expansion -- that's the two places where there continues to be some snags, yet at the same time I feel pretty hopeful that there is a way to resolve that," he told reporters Wednesday.
    During the weekly Republican Study Committee lunch Wednesday, Walker said they went through a slide presentation, and when the issue of "deductions" came up, "we just put a big line in the PowerPoint and moved on."
    A source familiar with the discussions between Price and Walker said the political reality is that, as much as conservatives have concerns about tax credits, they understand that it's unlikely they'll get that kind of major change.
    And there is still a lot of convincing left to do.
    The House must contend with the House Freedom Caucus, whose leader North Carolina Republican Mark Meadows has come out against a leaked version of the House Republican plan. Meadows' influence in the Freedom Caucus could be enough still to derail leadership's efforts.

    Conservatives fear 'Obamacare lite'

    On Wednesday afternoon, House committee leaders will venture to the other side of the Capitol to convince their colleagues in the Senate that they are on the right track.
    House Republicans were billing their mission Wednesday as an education seminar first and foremost.
    In the Senate, House Republican committee leaders will face more conservative angst.
    Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul said Wednesday morning that he plans to tell House Republican leaders point blank that their plan is unacceptable.
    "Conservatives aren't voting for that, so I think we should just brush that off the table the whole thing coming out of the House. Just completely start over, and let's just go back to the 2015 repeal," Paul said, adding that he was also opposed to capping the exclusion on employer-based insurance plans. "I don't want a bunch Democrat ideas dressed up in Republican clothing and stuck into the repeal bill."
    Paul warned that Republican leaders needed to "be open to hear from conservatives that we're not happy with Obamacare lite, and we're not voting for Obamacare lite."
    "The conversation can go two ways, but we were not elected to pass Obamacare lite."

    The Medicaid issue

    Conservatives aren't the only ones with questions about the House leadership's plan, however.
    Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman says he wants to hear from House Republican leaders on how they plan to protect Medicaid expansion like Ohio that benefited from the expansion under the Affordable Care Act. Portman met with other expansion-state senators before the Presidents Day recess to discuss ways to protect the program even as Republicans plan to roll back Obamacare.
    "I hope they'll talk about the need for reform of Medicaid, I agree with that. I think we need to give the states much more flexibility, I agree with that, but also to ensure that those people do continue to have access to coverage," Portman said Wednesday.
    A draft of the House's repeal bill included a roll back of Medicaid expansion by 2020, something expansion-state senators are no doubt troubled by.