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Conservatives back revised health bill, GOP moderates balk

According to a senior GOP aide, leaders were already promising Wednesday morning that once the health care bill as passed, members of Congress would vote separately to ensure that members wouldn't be exempted from the new rules, but it's a rocky start for an amendment that was meant to get Republicans back on track to repeal and replace Obamacare.

The amendment was negotiated between Tuesday Group leader Tom MacArthur, a New Jersey Republican, and House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, with consultation from the White House and House leadership.

Mark Meadows, R-N.C., whose conservative GOP members derailed the Republican health care bill, leaves a closed-door strategy session with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., in Washington, March 28, 2017.

During the GOP conference meeting Wednesday morning, members said that Republican Whip Steve Scalise announced that the whip team would begin counting votes this week to see if the amendment was moving the ball.

Still, most moderates had little public criticism or support to offer.

The amendment would allow states to apply for a waiver that would exempt their insurance markets from certain regulations created by the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, if they can prove it would bring down costs. "We'll vote on it when we get the votes", he said. "I think it helps us get to consensus". Winning over those skeptical moderate senators is only going to inflame the Freedom Caucus, and vice versa.

Besides Meadows, another influential conservative and Freedom Caucus member, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, has said he backs the proposal.

But it's not at all clear the plan will attract support from GOP moderates - including MacArthur's Garden State colleagues - whose votes are needed to get it passed.

But Freedom Caucus members said after earlier meetings that the White House had expressed it would be lenient in allowing states to use the waivers. The MacArthur amendment addresses this by forcing states opting out of Obamacare protections to fund high-risk pools instead in order to treat the most expensive patients.

President Donald Trump has been vocal about repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama's signature health care initiative that covers about 20 million Americans.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), co-chairman of the Tuesday Group and still a firm "no" on the bill, said he thought all of the moderates in the group who were previously opposed to the bill remain that way, which poses a major challenge to getting to the 216 votes. While there are indications that the revisions appeal to conservatives, some of them were still balking and there was little evidence that it was winning backing from moderates, leaving the measure's fate uncertain.

MacArthur ran away from reporters and refused to answer questions about his amendment Wednesday afternoon.

A more recent Quinnipiac poll found that only 36% of American voters say Republicans in Congress should try again to repeal and replace Obamacare, while 60% say the Republicans should "move on".

"We're evaluating this amendment and we're looking to debate this as a caucus before we make a final decision", Meadows said.

MacArthur said his work was done as a member of Congress, not as a representative of the Tuesday Group.

Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., are wrestling over a Democratic demand that the must-pass spending bill keep money flowing under the health care law that helps low earners pay out-of-pocket medical costs.

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