WASHINGTON — Hours after Republicans released their plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, the most influential conservative groups in the country have come out strongly against it, setting up an expensive battle between a divided Republican Party on an issue they’ve campaigned on for seven years.
On a rooftop overlooking the Capitol on Tuesday morning, leaders of the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity — the group that has the largest army of grassroots activists on the right — told activists and reporters at an event titled “You Promised” that they were looking for “20 courageous members in the House to stand up and say they’re not going to break their promise to the American people.”
“Republicans in the House promised to fully repeal the law — all the mandates, all the taxes, everything,” said Tim Phillips, president of the group. “This proposal does not do that. It simply doesn’t get the job done.”
Phillips warned that Republicans would have “the shortest-lived majority in the modern era if they fail to fully repeal Obamacare.”
The group, which has spent millions over the last seven years in ads against Obamacare, has about 200 activists in Washington Tuesday to lobby Republicans for a full repeal — something Phillips said repeatedly that 88% of House Republicans voted for as did 97% of Senate Republicans. “Which is it — did you mean these votes or not?” Phillips said.
“You’re looking at an across-the-board effort,” he added on what the opposition to the House plan would look like. “We’re going to fight very aggressively in the next few weeks and months.”
The broader political network affiliated with the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, which AFP is part of, also sent a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan and the two Republican committee chairman overseeing the GOP replacement plan, Reps. Kevin Brady and Greg Walden, outlining their opposition. The umbrella organization, Freedom Partners, called the plan “Obamacare 2.0,” saying Republicans would make the “same mistake” Democrats made if they pass the current version.
In the first few months following Trump’s election victory, Republicans, gleeful at the prospect of finally controlling the legislative agenda, had put on a display of unprecedented unity. The rifts that had divided the party for years were glossed over; conservative groups, having spent the past several years clashing with House leadership on legislation and at the ballot box, were applauding leadership’s efforts.
But following the release of leadership’s health care plan, both sides have returned to their corners. Conservative outside groups panned the bill Tuesday as well, attacking House Republican leadership for reneging on its promise to repeal the law wholesale.
The Club for Growth branded the bill “RyanCare” in announcing its opposition to the bill as currently written. “If this warmed-over substitute for government-run health care remains unchanged, the Club for Growth will key vote against it,” Club for Growth president David McIntosh said in a statement.
In particular, McIntosh took issue with the absence of “the critical free-market solution of selling health insurance across state lines.” President Donald Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning that the provision would be in “phase 2 & 3” of the health care plan.
Heritage Action, similarly, deemed the plan a near carbon copy of the law it was meant to repeal.
“Many Americans seeking health insurance on the individual market will notice no significant difference between the Affordable Care Act (i.e., Obamacare) and the American Health Care Act,” said Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham in a statement.
“What House Republicans are proposing is to essential repeal one entitlement and create a new one,” said Jason Pye, the director of public policy and legislative affairs at Freedomworks, another conservative group, describing the bill as “Obamacare-lite.”
It remains to be seen what form that opposition will take. Freedomworks will bring activists to DC next week and hold a rally outside the Capitol at which the primary focus will be on the health care repeal. “We’re telling our activists that Republicans are in the middle of selling them out,” Pye said.
Both Heritage and Club for Growth grade members based on how they vote on what the groups deem “key votes,” so if they choose to key vote this bill, members who vote in favor of it will see a drop in their score on the groups’ conservative ratings.
Republican members who vote in favor of the final bill — if conservative groups’ concerns are not assuaged by amendments between now and then — risk handing ammunition to a primary challenger in 2018. The Club for Growth, in particular, could back primary challengers to incumbents with low scores on their scorecard, if viable candidates emerge.
On the other side of the conservative groups, super PACs and nonprofits close to Republican leadership are also spending million in trying to push the GOP plan through. American Action Network, which is closely aligned with House leadership, has already spent $8 million on ads touting the GOP’s Obamacare replacement efforts. Tuesday, the group is launching a six-figure digital ad buy in 21 House districts, including those of several members of the conservative Freedom Caucus like Reps. Mark Meadows, Dave Brat, Raúl Labrador, and Jim Jordan, who have been outspoken in criticizing the bill since its release yesterday.
One Nation, a nonprofit controlled by allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, announced new radio ads Tuesday that provides cover for Republicans up for re-election who are supportive of the leadership’s plan to replace Obamacare. The spots are the latest in a $3 million ad campaign on the issue.
“In the states where One Nation has polled and is running ads, there is a clear preference for Obamacare to be repealed and immediately replaced with something that focuses on lowering the cost of health care,” said Ian Prior, spokesman for the group. “This is reflected in our advocacy efforts.”
A previous version of the story used the wrong last name of the spokesman for the group One Nation.