Politics

Mixed Bag of Republicans Vote Against Obamacare Repeal Vehicle

GOP defectors cite deficit, lack of replacement

Dent voted against the budget resolution because of concerns about the GOP rushing to repeal Obamacare without a replacement plan. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Republicans on Friday passed a bare-bones fiscal 2017 budget resolution with few intraparty defections, as most GOP members saw the unbalanced and long-delayed spending plan as a necessary means to an end of repealing the 2010 health care law.

The nine Republicans who voted against the measure raised concerns about either the budget not balancing, a key priority for fiscal conservatives, or the aggressive timeline of repealing the Affordable Care Act, given that the GOP has yet to present a replacement plan. The final vote was 227-198. 

Majority Whip Steve Scalise told reporters the defections were fewer than GOP vote counters had anticipated. 

"This is a signal that we are very serious about what we've campaigned on for years," the Louisiana Republican said. 

Among those voting "no" were four members of the moderate Tuesday Group --  Charlie Dent and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, John Katko of New York and Tom MacArthur of New Jersey -- and two members of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, Justin Amash of Michigan and Raul Labrador of Idaho. The other three GOP "no" votes came from North Carolina Rep. Walter B. Jones, Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie and California Rep. Tom McClintock, all of whom are conservatives but not members of the Freedom Caucus. 

No Democrats voted for the resolution.

Massie said he voted against the budget resolution because of the estimated $9.7 trillion it would add to the national debt. He said his fiscal conservative colleagues who voted "yes" because they only saw the budget as a vehicle to get to Obamacare repeal will regret it. 

"We got a category five hurricane coming when you have to reduce to practice, the differences between Donald Trump’s agenda and Paul Ryan’s agenda," he said. "I think there are going to be some very confusing votes in here.”

Amash, who in addition to being a member of the Freedom Caucus is chairman of the libertarian-minded Liberty Caucus, also opposed the resolution because of the spending levels, calling it "the worst budget we've had since I've been in Congress." 

"A lot of people fell for what I call the 'We have to have dinner tonight in Paris, France, or else we'll starve routine,'" he said. "We don't have to vote for this terrible budget in order to move to the repeal of Obamacare. We can put together a good budget and also repeal Obamacare."

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, who voted yes, said his group decided not to take a formal position on the budget resolution or whip its members to vote for or against it. 

"If we really wanted to stop the resolution, we could've taken a much more strident position," the North Carolinian told reporters earlier this week. 

On Thursday, Meadows said some of the group's concerns were allayed when leadership told them health care replacement legislation would move within a week of the upcoming budget reconciliation measure, which passage of the resolution sets in motion, to repeal the Affordable Care Act. 

Rep. Tom Cole said leadership formed messaging groups and held informational listening sessions in addition to the traditional whip team activity to ensure members were comfortable with the vote. But the ultimate motivating factor is politics, the Oklahoma Republican said. 

“How do you go home after having campaigned against this thing since it passed in 2010, and say, ‘Well I voted against the first step of repeal because I wasn’t sure what the last step was’?" he said. "I don’t think that’s politically sustainable."

Dent, a Tuesday Group co-chair, has no problem going home to Pennsylvania and telling his constituents that. 

"Nothing was repealed today," Dent said. "This sets up a process to move forward."

It was Dent's concerns about the process and how quickly it was moving that led him to vote against the budget resolution. He said he wants to be clear about what House Republicans' replacement plan is and where the Senate and White House are in terms of the policy. 

"These [insurance] markets are already collapsing without us doing anything, but this type of action could accelerate the collapse," Dent said. "So we have to make sure we have a clear idea how we're going to land this plane."

For Katko, it was about keeping a promise to his constituents. 

"I’ve always made it clear since the time I was running for office that I would never vote for repeal unless a replacement is ready," he said. "And so far, I haven’t seen the details of a replacement. And until that happens, I’m going to stay the course.”

Although Katko won re-election by 22 points in November, he represents a largely Democratic district that Hillary Clinton won in last year's presidential election.

MacArthur, a new co-chair of the Tuesday Group, agreed with Dent on the need to slow the process down and ensure there's a system in place that allows individuals and families to buy affordable health insurance. (The third Tuesday Group co-chair, Elise Stefanik of New York, voted "yes.")

The two-term Republican and former insurance executive said he's a "team player" and will work with his party on the repeal and replacement plan moving forward. But MacArthur added, "We're putting ourselves under some pressure — time pressure now."

Bridget Bowman and Simone Pathé contributed to this report. 

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