U.S. President Donald Trump had fighting words on Thursday for conservatives in his own Republican Party who helped block a healthcare bill last week, saying he would oppose House Freedom Caucus members in 2018 elections if they did not get on board.
“The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if gthey don’t get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!” Trump said on Twitter.
Trump, a real estate magnate who touted his skills as a dealmaker in his 1987 book “The Art of the Deal,” has accused Freedom Caucus lawmakers of snatching “defeat from the jaws of victory” with their rejection of the White House-backed healthcare bill to replace President Barack Obama’s 2010 healthcare reform bill.
Trump went farther on Thursday. He equated members of his own party with Democrats, reflecting the extent to which he may have felt betrayed by the conservative lawmakers after the collapse of his first legislative initiative.
The mistrust between the White House and hardline conservatives in Congress has cast a pall over the next big item on the Republican agenda, tax reform.
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican in Congress, said in an interview broadcast on Thursday he feared the Republican Party is pushing the president to the other side of the aisle so he can make good on campaign promises to redo Obamacare.
The Freedom Caucus’s vice chairman, Rep. Jim Jordan, sang the same tune. “It’s ObamaCare in a different form,” he said. The caucus’s chairman, Rep. Mark Meadows, wrote an op-ed with Sen. Rand Paul calling it “ObamaCare provisions dressed up in shiny new GOP-branded clothes.”
These claims confused the grass roots but were simply untrue. Look at the legislation’s text, which canceled ObamaCare’s insurance exchanges, halted and reversed its Medicaid expansion, killed its taxes, and whacked its individual and employer mandates.
Or look at the changes that Messrs. Meadows, Jordan & Co. asked for when negotiating with the White House. They wanted to permit states to receive Medicaid funding on either a per capita basis or through a traditional block grant. They wanted to allow work requirements on able-bodied, single Medicaid recipients. They wanted to prohibit additional states from expanding Medicaid while ObamaCare was phased out.
They wanted flexibility on which “essential benefits” must be included in every insurance policy.
These are good changes, but they hardly justify denouncing the bill as “ObamaCare Lite.”
That falsehood was meant to increase the Freedom Caucus’s leverage and pump up its allies’ fundraising—both at the expense of other Republicans.
As President Trump agreed to each amendment, the Freedom Caucus asked for another.
By the end, some demanded that insurers be allowed to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions. Others wanted to allow insurers to set lifetime limits on payouts for sick policy holders or kick 26-year-olds off the family coverage. These weren’t essential conservative reforms but pretexts for opposing the plan.
After the bill was withdrawn, the Freedom Caucus tried frantically to justify its opposition, with Rep. David Brat writing an op-ed complaining that the proposal had “included premium increases of 15 to 20% until 2020.”
But premiums will keep rising until ObamaCare’s exchanges wind down, because they attract too few young, healthy people and too many old, unhealthy and expensive ones. Under the GOP repeal bill last year, which Messrs. Meadows, Jordan and Brat supported, premiums also would have risen as the exchanges closed up shop.
Freedom Caucusers could avoid these premium increases by killing the exchanges immediately—thereby canceling insurance for 10 million people overnight—or by increasing subsidies to hold policyholders harmless. Only this year’s Republican proposal was scored by the CBO as lowering premiums, starting in 2021.