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GOP Skeptics Harden Opposition to Health Plan After CBO Report

Republican lawmakers already skeptical of the bill are using the report as further reason to dig in their heels in opposition.
Image: Paul Ryan
House Paul Ryan of Wis. faces reporters during a news conference at Republican National Committee Headquarters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 8, 2017, as the GOP works on its long-awaited plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)J. Scott Applewhite / AP

As White House officials attempt to discredit the conclusions of a Congressional Budget Office report on the GOP-backed health care plan, Republican lawmakers already skeptical of the bill are using the report to further bolster their concerns and, in some cases, opposition.

A number of influential Republican lawmakers on Tuesday pointed to the CBO’s projected spike in Americans without health coverage and an initial rise in premiums as evidence the plan is untenable, further complicating the chances the measure will get a vote in Congress.

"I think the Congressional Budget Office is directionally correct. They’re right that coverage levels will go down in the coming years under the House bill," Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday. "They're also right, I’m afraid, that insurance premiums will continue to go up in the near term, for three to four years."

The nonpartisan report released Monday found the GOP plan to replace the Affordable Care Act would result in about 24 million fewer people having health coverage than under the current system, and premiums would initially go up but would drop about 10 percent by 2026.

"I don't think this is particularly good news, if they're half right that's still a lot of people that would be uninsured," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who has authored his own alternative to Obamacare, called the projected 14 million people who would lose Medicaid coverage “eye popping.”

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who campaign heavily on repealing the Affordable Care Act during his failed 2016 presidential run, said the CBO findings were “troubling.”

"It underscored my biggest concern about the current draft of the House bill, which is that it does not do enough to drive down premiums," Cruz said.

Related: Five Things to Know About the GOP Health Care Plan’s Score

Both Cruz and Cotton have said the House should not vote on the politically contentious bill that so far seems doomed for failure in the Senate.

The criticism comes as Trump administration officials continue to attempt to undermine the CBO report by dismissing the office's ability to accurately assess large-scale legislation.

"According to the Congressional Budget Office, it's sunny and 74 outside," White House Director of the Office of Management and Budget said as a winter storm blasted up the eastern seaboard. He repeated the joke in a spat of television interviews Tuesday morning.

"We think that CBO simply has it wrong," Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told reporters after the report was released Monday.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer opened his daily briefing by attacking the CBO coverage estimates, calling them “consistently wrong” and noting that the report only took into account one piece of what GOP leaders say will be a three-part plan. Parts two and three have not yet been made public and are still being crafted. Asked how the CBO was supposed to score these phases that don’t yet exist, Spicer referred reporters to the House.

Republican leadership in the House, which introduced the bill, has carefully toed the line between criticizing the CBO and highlighting the positive numbers from the report. The analysis does not take into account the second and third phases of the plan to repeal Obamacare, which they say involves regulatory reform and future legislation.

A press release from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy touted the CBO’s projected $337 billion decrease in the federal deficit by 2026 and the 10 percent decrease in premiums by 2026.

House Speaker Paul Ryan told Fox News on Monday he was “encouraged” by the report but that it overestimated the amount of uninsured.

“Of course the CBO is going to say that if you’re not going to force someone to buy something they don’t want to buy, they won’t buy it,” Ryan said, referencing the proposal to eliminate the government mandate to purchase insurance.

“Now that we have this encouraging score from the CBO this gives us even more room to work on to make good fine tuning finishing touches on this bill as it moves through the four committee process,” he added.