Committee Democrats Pump Brakes on GOP Health Care Bill

Levin accused Republicans of rushing the bill through. (Rob Kunzig/Morning Consult)

Democrats moved Wednesday to prolong debate over Republican leaders’ Obamacare replacement, using the House Ways and Means Committee markup as a bully pulpit to trash the controversial legislation and assail President Donald Trump.

At the outset of the markup, Republicans were forced to beat back a Democratic attempt to postpone the meeting until next week. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, who introduced the resolution, compared the GOP replacement bill to the chaotic rollout of Trump’s initial travel ban, since the bill hasn’t been scored by the Congressional Budget Office or debated in a public forum.

“What this bill needs is some extreme vetting,” the Texas Democrat said. “Frankly any vetting at all would be an improvement.”

Democrats’ attempts to stall the bill’s passage are unlikely to derail it, since it can pass without their votes through reconciliation. But they could create a headache for GOP leaders, who are on a tight deadline to get the bill through the full chamber by the end of the month. And some of the bill’s most vocal Republican critics from the House Freedom Caucus will only have a chance to weigh in once the bill reaches the House floor.

Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) accused the GOP of holding the vote this week because “[Republicans are] fearful that the CBO will provide answers to questions that [they] don’t like.” The CBO score will likely be available next week, Thomas Barthold of the Joint Committee on Taxation said at the meeting.

Related: Ryan Calls GOP Pushback on Obamacare Replacement ‘Growing Pains’

And Rep. Richard Neal, the top Democrat on the panel, diverged from his prepared remarks to note that the powerful American Medical Association and prominent hospital groups announced their opposition to the bill, raising concerns it would fail to cover millions of Americans who gained health insurance under Obamacare.

The committee is scheduled to vote on five sections of what will become the American Health Care Act. Democrats dug in during consideration of the first section, which would double the tax deduction for insurer executive compensation to $1 million. The result of the change, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, is roughly $400 million in revenue losses, out of the bill’s roughly $600 billion in tax cuts.

“We have not heard one member of our committee who is a Republican speak up to explain why insurance companies deserve a $400 million windfall as part of a $600 billion giveaway in this tax measure,” Doggett said. “They’re quiet, they’re silent as they are silent and acquiesce in the wrongdoing of this administration.”

A House GOP aide defended the change.

“Obamacare’s failed promise of punishing different industries to lower costs clearly did not work,” the aide said in a statement. “Unlike Obamacare, our legislation does not discriminate against specific industries.”

To delay the bill from advancing, Democrats spent several hours Wednesday offering partisan amendments, such as one by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) that would prevent the legislation from becoming law unless the CBO certifies it would cover all Americans, “and keeps President Trump’s promise that it will be at least as good,” he said. That amendment, along with multiple others, were declared not germane to the legislation.

Some Democratic amendments offered were even unrelated to health care. Reps. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) and Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) trumpeted amendments targeting Trump’s failure to release his tax returns and business deals.

“The president of the United States owes it to the American people to show his worth, how he made his money and to show what connections do or don’t … exist between him and Russian oligarchs and Putin himself,” Crowley said.

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