House Republicans are reeling from their failure to pass health care reform legislation, but a key House Freedom Caucus member says the GOP is getting close to a consensus that will make conservatives happy and make it to President Trump’s desk.
Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., a former economics professor, says the embarrassing spectacle of having to pull the American Health Care Act, or AHCA, from the floor never had to happen. He says the arbitrary voting deadline imposed by House leadership doomed the bill just as critical common ground was found between conservatives and the White House.
“At the end of that process, we were already making good headway. We met with President Trump himself. He OK’d a lot of the regulatory pieces we wanted. Based on what he said, we thought we were at a yes. Then it got mulled around and kicked around on Capitol Hill and it turned into a no somehow,” said Brat.
He says House conservatives were also very receptive to some of Vice President Mike Pence’s ideas to decentralize the health care sector.
“It’s just to go the states route and let moderate or liberal states keep the elements of Obamacare they like, let conservative states take the legs out to lower prices the way they see fit that matches their population,” said Brat.
But despite the promises, many Freedom Caucus members couldn’t vote yes for a very simple reason.
“That hasn’t ever been delivered in print yet,” said Brat, noting the official language of the AHCA never reflected the changes Trump and conservative lawmakers agreed upon.
Brat says this has been a frustrating process since the AHCA is not what he says Republicans promised to voters in the past four election cycles.
“We thought we were going to end up in pretty good shape with some competition across state lines, HSA’s and private innovation, price discovery and transparency, so people could shop for health care products and know what they’re paying for,” said Brat.
“Then we got a bill put before us that is way too much federal government which is way too federal government-oriented for my taste and three weeks to deal with it,” said Brat.
Despite his disappointment in the AHCA, Brat says he’s trying to scratch his way to supporting the bill, with the right changes.
“Some of us weren’t so happy with that product, but we also want to keep the Trump agenda going on and realize you need tax revenues to do tax reform in short order. So we want to get to yes but we’ve got to be plausible and reasonable,” said Brat.
It’s a fine balancing act, says Brat, as conservatives faced intense pressure to back the health bill put forth by their own party.
“I’ve had very intelligent people say, ‘Just forget about it. Just vote yes on that bill and move on because we want tax reform.’ Are you serious? It’s one-sixth of the entire economy and just dispatch it?” said Brat.
He says Republicans have a chance to address this and other issues that may not come around again for a very long time.
“This is a once-in-a-century opportunity we have with the House and the Senate and the White House. So this isn’t really the time to do marginal, small little adjustments. This is the time to get your first principles right and set up an economy and a health care system that our kids will flourish under,” said Brat.
And for the record, Brat says moderates are much more responsible for the AHCA mess than the House Freedom Caucus.
“There was a certain number of House Freedom Caucus folks that were a no vote, but it wasn’t unanimous. There were way more moderates who were going to do a jail break once the [number of GOP no votes] got to 20. It wasn’t reported at all. It’s not a blame game. Let’s just tell the truth out there in public so we can get to a solution. You’ve got to know the truth before you can find good policy options,” said Brat.
Brat says the media, including the Wall Street Journal, are not telling the truth on policy either. He says stories of heartless Republican policy proposals are simply not matched by the facts.
“Not only are we OK with pre-existing conditions, we’re OK with a $120 billion pot for high-risk pools for pre-existing conditions. Then we’re OK with the main amendment language of (Ariz. Rep David) Schweikert, (Alabama Rep. Gary) Palmer and (Maryland Rep.) Andy Harris, which also helps pre-existing conditions. It’s kind of been applauded by everyone for reducing prices for health care and providing more coverage,” said Brat.
“The high-risk pool is the solution there, because five percent of the folks with pre-existing conditions of a serious nature are 50 percent of the health care costs of the country. They can’t get insurance. Obamacare’s failure was that it just focused on insurance coverage. It never focused on price. That’s why you had death spirals, because people’s premiums are going up 30 percent and insurance companies can’t stay in business,” said Brat.
Brat is confident House members can reach a consensus in the week or two after lawmakers return from recess. And he warns Senate Republicans not to tinker much with any legislation the House sends their way.
“The bill better come back very close to how we sent it over. So if there’s a major rewrite on the Senate side, then it’s business as usual, and we’ve got to do better,” said Brat.