Bad Excuses for Republican Fratricide

March 30, 2017

It has become a tired, familiar act. Members of the House Freedom Caucus say they are the only true conservatives, while other congressional Republicans are RINOs, “Republicans in Name Only.” In the latest episode, the Freedom Caucus and its outside allies—including Heritage Action and FreedomWorks—denounced the GOP health-care bill as “ObamaCare Lite.”

The Republican plan “not only accepts the flawed progressive premises of ObamaCare but expands upon them,” thundered Heritage Action’s CEO, Mike Needham. Americans, he added, “will notice no significant difference” between the GOP bill and the Affordable Care Act.

The Freedom Caucus’s vice chairman, Rep. Jim Jordan, sang the same tune. “It’s ObamaCare in a different form,” he said. The caucus’s chairman, Rep. Mark Meadows, wrote an op-ed with Sen. Rand Paul calling it “ObamaCare provisions dressed up in shiny new GOP-branded clothes.”

These claims confused the grass roots but were simply untrue. Look at the legislation’s text, which canceled ObamaCare’s insurance exchanges, halted and reversed its Medicaid expansion, killed its taxes, and whacked its individual and employer mandates.

Or look at the changes that Messrs. Meadows, Jordan & Co. asked for when negotiating with the White House. They wanted to permit states to receive Medicaid funding on either a per capita basis or through a traditional block grant. They wanted to allow work requirements on able-bodied, single Medicaid recipients. They wanted to prohibit additional states from expanding Medicaid while ObamaCare was phased out. They wanted flexibility on which “essential benefits” must be included in every insurance policy.

These are good changes, but they hardly justify denouncing the bill as “ObamaCare Lite.” That falsehood was meant to increase the Freedom Caucus’s leverage and pump up its allies’ fundraising—both at the expense of other Republicans.

As President Trump agreed to each amendment, the Freedom Caucus asked for another. By the end, some demanded that insurers be allowed to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions. Others wanted to allow insurers to set lifetime limits on payouts for sick policy holders or kick 26-year-olds off the family coverage. These weren’t essential conservative reforms but pretexts for opposing the plan.

After the bill was withdrawn, the Freedom Caucus tried frantically to justify its opposition, with Rep. David Brat writing an op-ed complaining that the proposal had “included premium increases of 15 to 20% until 2020.”

But premiums will keep rising until ObamaCare’s exchanges wind down, because they attract too few young, healthy people and too many old, unhealthy and expensive ones. Under the GOP repeal bill last year, which Messrs. Meadows, Jordan and Brat supported, premiums also would have risen as the exchanges closed up shop.

Freedom Caucusers could avoid these premium increases by killing the exchanges immediately—thereby canceling insurance for 10 million people overnight—or by increasing subsidies to hold policyholders harmless. Only this year’s Republican proposal was scored by the CBO as lowering premiums, starting in 2021.

Equally laughable was Mr. Brat’s assertion that “conservative members were left out of the drafting of the bill.” Mr. Brat is not on the committees of jurisdiction. But all the Freedom Caucus members who are, first helped write the bill, then voted for it in committee.

When Fox’s Chris Wallace prodded Mr. Jordan last Sunday over wanting to “remove the protection for people with pre-existing conditions,” the Ohio congressman protested that was “not accurate” because he was only opposing “guaranteed issue.” Memo to Mr. Jordan: That’s the term for assuring that people with pre-existing conditions are not denied insurance.

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