A newly released budget analysis of House Republicans’ ObamaCare repeal bill is causing new turbulence for efforts to send a version of the legislation to President Trump’s desk, giving critics of the plan fresh ammunition ahead of a critical committee vote.
The so-called “score” from the Congressional Budget Office wasn’t all bad. The estimates showed both insurance premiums and taxpayer costs falling in the long-term under the GOP plan.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., touted those figures, telling Fox News’ “Special Report with Bret Baier" that the report "actually exceeded my expectations."
But the eye-popping stat causing the most problems is the CBO’s prediction that 14 million more Americans would be uninsured in 2018, with that number growing to 24 million by 2026. This is tied to the GOP proposal to drop penalties associated with the so-called individual mandate.
Ryan suggested late Monday it’s only natural that some will opt to drop coverage if they’re not forced to buy insurance, but the estimates fueled criticism on both sides of the aisle – especially among those already skeptical of the plan.
"It's awful. It has to be a concern," Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who is pushing his own repeal plan, said of the budget office findings. "President Trump said he wanted as many people covered as under Obamacare."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said, "At the end of the day, we should pause and try to improve the product in light of the CBO analysis rather than just rejecting it."
The first test for the House Republican plan will come Thursday during a House Budget Committee meeting. It is the third committee to take up the legislation, but could be the toughest considering it is densely populated with conservatives, some of whom have criticized the plan in recent days.
Whether they can come to a compromise and advance the legislation remains to be seen, but White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told “Fox & Friends” he has confidence.
“At the end of the day, you have to assume good policy is good politics, and the Republican bill is good policy,” he said Tuesday. “The framework of the bill, which is what’s moving through the process now, can get better. … I’m absolutely positive by the time we get done, we’re going to have a bill that can pass the House.”
Both Mulvaney and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price criticized parts of the CBO analysis. Price on Monday sharply challenged the findings on the number of uninsured – after Republican supporters of the bill spent days questioning the CBO’s reliability given its spotty record estimating the impact of the Affordable Care Act.
"We believe that the plan that we're putting in place is going to insure more individuals than currently are insured. So we think the CBO simply has it wrong," Price said Monday.
The GOP legislation would use tax credits to help consumers buy health coverage, expand health savings accounts, phase out an expansion of Medicaid and cap that program for the future, end some requirements for health plans under Obama's law, and scrap a number of taxes.
Ryan pointed to other CBO figures, including that the GOP bill reduces federal deficits by $337 billion over a decade, and begins to bring down insurance premiums by around 10 percent starting in 2020, though that comes only after premiums sharply rise in 2018 and 2019.
Democrats scoffed at Ryan's positive take, calling the CBO analysis damning evidence that Republicans are interested only in giving hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks to the rich, while yanking health coverage from the poor.
"I hope they would pull the bill. It's really the only decent thing to do," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said. "How can they look their constituents in the eye when they say to them `24 million of you will no longer have coverage."'
The Associated Press contributed to this report.