Republicans on Sunday dismissed an upcoming Congressional Budget Office analysis widely expected to conclude that more Americans will be uninsured under a proposal to dismantle Barack Obama's health law, despite President Donald Trump's promise of universal coverage.
Meanwhile, GOP opponents from the right and center hardened their positions against the Trump-backed legislation. House conservatives vowed to block the bill as "Obamacare Lite" unless there are more restrictions, even as a Republican senator warned the plan would never pass as is, due to opposition from moderates.
"Do not walk the plank and vote for a bill that cannot pass the Senate and then have to face the consequences of that vote," says Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. "If they vote for this bill, they're going to put the House majority at risk next year."
Speaking in television interviews, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Trump administration officials vowed to move forward on their proposed "repeal and replace" plan regardless of the CBO findings, insisting they can work past GOP disagreements and casting the issue as one of "choice" in which consumers are freed of a government mandate to buy insurance.
The CBO is scheduled to release its long-awaited cost analysis of the House GOP leadership plan early this week, including estimates on the number of people likely to be covered. It'll likely affect Republicans' chances of passing the proposal.
Ryan, R-Wis., said he fully expects the CBO analysis to find that fewer people will be covered under the GOP plan because it eliminates the government requirement to be insured.
"What we're trying to achieve here is bringing down the cost of care, bringing down the cost of insurance not through government mandates and monopolies but by having more choice and competition," he said. "We're not going to make an American do what they don't want to do."
The GOP legislation would eliminate the current mandate that nearly all people in the United States carry insurance or face fines. It would use tax credits to help consumers buy health coverage, expand health savings accounts, phase out an expansion of Medicaid and cap that program for the future, end some requirements for health plans under Obama's law, and scrap a number of taxes.
During the presidential campaign and as recently as January, Trump repeatedly stressed his support for universal health coverage, saying his plan to replace the Affordable Care Act would provide "insurance for everybody."
But on Sunday, his aides took pains to explain that a CBO finding of fewer people covered would not necessarily mean that fewer people will be covered.
"If the CBO was right about Obamacare to begin with, there'd be 8 million more people on Obamacare today than there actually are," said Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, disputing the accuracy of CBO data. "Sometimes we ask them to do stuff they're not capable of doing, and estimating the impact of a bill of this size probably isn't the best use of their time."
Health Secretary Tom Price said he "firmly" believed that "nobody will be worse off financially" under the health care overhaul. He said people will have choices as they select the kind of coverage they want as opposed to what the government forces them to buy. In actuality, tax credits in Republican legislation being debated in the House may not be as generous to older people as what is in the current law.
"I believe and the president believes firmly that if you create a system that's accessible for everybody and you provide the financial feasibility for everybody to get coverage, that we have a great opportunity to increase coverage over where we are right now," he said.
Gary Cohn, Trump's chief economic adviser, described past CBO analyses as "meaningless."
"We are offering coverage to everyone," he said. "If you are on Medicaid today, you're going to stay on Medicaid. If you are covered under an employee-sponsored plan, you're going to be continued to be covered under an employee-sponsored plan. If you fall into that middle group, we'e going to provide tax credit so you can go out and buy a plan."
House conservatives weren't buying it.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus, criticized the plan as an unacceptable form of "Obamacare Lite." He reiterated that he and other caucus members will seek to block the House bill unless there are additional changes. They want a quicker phaseout of Medicaid benefits and are opposed to proposed tax credits as a new entitlement that will add to government costs.
Members of the caucus will meet with White House officials on Tuesday. Jordan expressed hope that Trump is sincere in expressing a willingness to negotiate changes, criticizing Ryan for his "take it or leave it" stance.
"I'm not for this plan and I think there's lot of opposition to this plan in the House and Senate," Jordan says. "Either work with us or you don't end up getting the votes. That's the real choice here."
But pressuring the White House on the opposite side were moderate Republican governors and senators, who said Trump needed to allow for continuing Medicaid coverage for the poor.
"It's not like we love Obamacare. It means don't throw the baby out with the bathwater," said Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican. "Don't kill Medicaid expansion. And you've got to fix the exchange, but you have to have an ability to subsidize people at lower income levels."
"We need to have Democrats involved so that what we do is going to be not only significant but will last," Kasich says.
Ryan spoke on CBS' "Face the Nation," Price and Kasich appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press," Mulvaney spoke on ABC's "This Week" and CNN's "State of the Union," Cotton was on ABC's "This Week," and Jordan and Cohn appeared on "Fox News Sunday.