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Republicans battle to save healthcare bill

Republicans are battling to save their new healthcare bill after Congress’s non-partisan watchdog said it would cause about 24m Americans to lose insurance and prompting fierce retaliation from the White House.

On Tuesday, the Trump administration fought back against the Congressional Budget Office’s findings that the legislation, while reducing the budget deficit by $337bn, would cause an estimated 52m Americans to be uninsured by 2026. This compared to only 28m Americans uninsured by that year under the Obamacare programme.

In co-ordinated TV appearances, White House officials attempted to poke holes in the CBO’s report, alleging that the watchdog did not fully understand the legislation.

“What the report looked at was only one-third of our plan and that’s why you can’t look at this in isolation,” health and human services secretary Tom Price said on the Today Show. “The fact of the matter is with our whole plan every single American will have access to coverage, it’ll be coverage that’s more responsive to them, it’ll allow them to choose and it’ll be less expensive than the current plan.”

“I don’t believe the facts are correct,” Mick Mulvaney, the office of management and budget director, told MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “I’m saying that based upon a track record of the CBO being wrong before and we believe the CBO is wrong now.”

The CBO’s findings do provide some good news for Republicans. Because the new bill is not projected to increase the federal deficit, Republicans would be able to pass it in the Senate with only a simple majority through a process known as reconciliation. Democrats would not be able to filibuster it.

Republicans have a 52-48 majority in the Senate. Yet many Republican senators have spoken out against the bill, with many, including Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Orrin Hatch of Utah, and Rob Portman of Ohio saying the CBO raised further concerns about its impact.

Rob Wittman, a Republican congressman from Virginia, announced on Monday night that he would not support the bill in its current form. 

“After reviewing this legislation and receiving the Congressional Budget Office score today, it is clear that this bill is not consistent with the repeal and replace principles for which I stand,” he said in a statement. “I do not think this bill will do what is necessary for the short and long-term best interests of Virginians, and therefore I must oppose it.”

It is clear that this bill is not consistent with the repeal and replace principles for which I stand

Joe Minarik, senior vice-president and director of research at the Committee for Economic Development, said it was difficult to see how Republican leaders could get their bill through both houses.

“They have difficulties on their right flank and they have difficulties on their left flank. If they make concessions in one direction, they are going to lose [votes] in the other,” he said.

While the bill may pass the House, it is likely to struggle in the Senate, Mr Minarik said, with close to 10 Republican senators publicly expressing doubts about it. 

“As we know there is abundant indication that there is dislike if not straight-up opposition to the bill with the more [conservative] elements of the party,” said Licy Do Canto, head of the Do Canto Group, a public policy consulting group.

“The CBO reaffirmed what many already had known. That this piece of legislation would — not just in a perceived way but in an actual way — inflict harm on millions of people.”

Republican leaders could possibly win over some of their more moderate members by using the estimated $337bn reduction in federal budget deficits to issue more tax credits and try and keep more Americans covered, Mr Minarik said. But by doing so, they may lose more conservative members of the party and libertarians such as Senator Rand Paul, who are keen on seeing a sharp reduction in the deficit.

“That $300bn is about the only thing that is left on the table,” Mr Minarik said.

On Tuesday afternoon, Mr Trump was due to speak with Republican House speaker Paul Ryan and House majority leader Kevin McCarthy about the bill.

Mr Ryan was one of the few Republicans on Monday to defend the CBO report as good news for the party’s healthcare legislation.

“CBO report confirms it — American Health Care Act will lower premiums & improve access to quality, affordable care,” he tweeted.

While the White House took a largely hands-off role in the crafting of the Republican bill, it is now under pressure to distance itself from it.

On Monday, Breitbart News, the far-right news site formerly run by the president’s chief strategist Steve Bannon, published an October audio recording of Mr Ryan criticising Mr Trump soon after an Access Hollywood video emerged showing Mr Trump talking about women in crude terms. 

Breitbart editor Matthew Boyle, a Bannon ally and one of the few journalists to have interviewed Mr Trump in the White House, lashed out at Mr Ryan and his healthcare legislation.

“This is the first major initiative that Trump has worked on with Ryan — and the fact it is going so poorly calls into question whether Speaker Ryan, the GOP’s failed 2012 vice-presidential nominee who barely supported Trump at all in 2016, really understands how Trump won and how to win in general,” Mr Boyle wrote.

Mr Ryan’s spokesman Brendan Buck told Breitbart that readers should not be surprised by Mr Ryan’s October remarks. “The world is aware of this history. And obviously a lot has happened since then,” he said.

Via FT