GOP Votes to Cut Care for Millions—and Cheers

Republicans may not have known what was in the bill, how much it cost, or who it would hurt. But they were totally ready to party after passing it.

Carlos Barria/Getty

It was all celebration on the House floor on Thursday afternoon as Republicans rejoiced as their bill squeaked by and their albatross was now passed to Mitch McConnell’s neck.

With a vote of 217-213, with 20 Republicans voting against it, Zombie Trumpcare officially lumbered towards the upper chamber where it faces an uncertain future, at best, in its current form.

But it was clear in the House chamber that Republicans were just living for the moment. The bill’s passage provided the kind of much-needed, short-term victory that Republican leadership and the Trump administration so desperately craved. The president, himself, spent part of Wednesday calling members and asking for their votes.

The first time around was largely defined by a hard, threat-filled sell by the administration that epically failed to move nearly enough votes within the hardline-conservative faction in Congress, nor the more moderate holdouts.

It’s passage also begins to complete a promise in the making since the early days of the Obama administration—and one that was a cornerstone of President Donald Trump’s campaign.

“We’re going to get this passed through the Senate, I feel so confident,” Trump said in the Rose Garden during celebratory remarks following the vote. “[Obamacare’s] been a catastrophe. and this is a great plan. I actually think it will get even better.”

“A lot of us have been waiting seven years to cast this vote," Speaker Paul Ryan said in his remarks before the vote.

On Thursday morning, the mood inside the House chamber was jovial.

Majority Whip Steve Scalise confidently strode onto the House floor, shaking hands and throwing even a fist-pump, as he made his way through the chamber.

Today was not going to be a failure for House Republicans. Today, they made good on a promise they made for the past seven years: repeal and replace Obamacare. At last.

Kind of.

But not really.

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Because the bill that squeaked through on Thursday does not repeal Obamacare. It does get rid of the unpopular mandate requiring that people carry insurance, but at the same time, it allows insurers to charge people who go without health insurance for two months more for their insurance.

Under the last ditch changes to the bill, states can apply for waivers from a range of essential health benefits—including pre-existing conditions—in order to offer lower cost plans, according to Republicans. A hastily crafted provision authored this week offers an additional $8 billion to help pay for the high risk pools, but experts on both side of the ideological spectrum say that that number is nowhere near enough to actually make a difference.

The bill, as is, is still loaded with pitfalls. Trumpcare would be disastrous for special-needs education, for one, and people with employer-based insurance could also be in the cross-hairs if the legislation ever made its way onto President Trump’s desk.

Speaking of the cost, because the bill that passed on Thursday afternoon did not have the customary scoring from the Congressional Budget Office, it’s unclear how many billions it would take to implement the bill.

Also unknown? How many people would lose their insurance. The last CBO score on March’s doomed bill, put the number who will lose their insurance by 2026 at 24 million.

This uncertainty was one reason why not all Republicans were ready to pop the champagne.

As he headed into the imminent vote, Rep. Walter Jones, who voted ‘no,’ looked morose, repeatedly slamming his party's Obamacare repeal plan. "There are so many unknowns in this bill," he stressed. "Those of us not involved in drafting the bill, we're stuck with a lot of unknowns."

He also mentioned that there are thousands of military veterans residing in his district who "this bill doesn't help" and might actively hurt.

"This is an interesting game and it should not be a game," he continued. "It's become a very political game...This is people's lives."

Jones noted the hypocrisy of Republicans who complained about Democrats "jamming through" the Affordable Care Act who now approve of House GOP leadership's tactics in past weeks. He also said he had no hope to offer regarding the bill's chances in the Senate.

"I don't think you can fix a bad bill [in the Senate]--and this is a bad bill," he told The Daily Beast.

Shortly after, Rep. Greg Walden, who was instrumental in crafting and pushing through Trumpcare, hurried into the chamber. As he was asked by multiple reporters if he was concerned about potential blowback against House Republicans by angry voters, Walden just vigorously shook his head with a frown on his face.

Republican congressman and a deputy Majority Whip Tom Cole stressed that this was only the beginning for his conservative fellow travelers. "Anybody who thinks this will be the exact same over there [in the Senate] is being naive," Cole told The Daily Beast on Thursday. "These things are always hard."

Rep. Mark Sanford—a House Freedom Caucus member who Trump specifically threatened over his prior opposition to Trumpcare—plainly acknowledged that if the Senate sends back a battered, watered-down version of Zombie Trumpcare, the House could be in for another round of the kind of pitched ideological battle that doomed the bill the first time.

"I think there's a tendency to get ahead of our skis in any victory," Sanford cautioned, immediately following the vote.

As the dust settled on Thursday afternoon, the mood among House Democrats was mixed. Some, including the Democrats on the House floor who loudly chanted “Goodbye” at Republicans for voting for health-care legislation that fewer than one-in-five Americans support, are openly giddy that Republicans have now gone on-record in their embrace of Zombie Trumpcare. They believe the bill will get mangled and potentially destroyed in the Senate, and that attack ads against vulnerable Republicans will write themselves between now and the 2018 midterms.

Other Democratic lawmakers, however, are anything but excited about the AHCA’s current state of affairs. Whatever happens in the upper chamber, Trumpcare has successfully been put on life support, and then some. And it’s that uncertainty—regarding a bill that has the potential to strip millions upon millions of Americans of their health care—that will keep them up at night for the foreseeable future.

“Every Democrat I've spoken to is terrified that this thing actually has a chance of becoming law,” Democratic congressman Joaquin Castro told The Daily Beast just minutes before the deciding votes.