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GOP splinters over protecting those with pre-existing conditions

A key House Republican said his party's plan "strips away any guarantee that people with pre-existing conditions could be covered at an affordable rate."
Image: Paul Ryan
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. arrives for Republican caucus on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, March 24, 2017. Republican leaders have abruptly pulled...
When Republicans appeared ready to pass a far-right health care plan in March, their plan was already dreadful and unpopular. GOP leaders then tried to revive the failed legislation by making it quite a bit worse, gutting protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions.Because of the state of Republican politics in 2017, this persuaded a variety of far-right lawmakers to endorse the more regressive approach, but in an example of politics resembling Newtonian physics, the change pushed other GOP lawmakers further away.Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), for example, conceded the other day that he's "not comfortable" with his party's proposal, which shocked many on Capitol Hill -- because Upton has spent five years as one of the GOP's top officials on health care policy, directly helping shape the Republican agenda on the issue.Yesterday, as USA Today reported, brought an even bigger surprise.

In a sign of trouble for the GOP's efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, a Missouri Republican lawmaker and staunch Trump supporter said Monday he would oppose a newly revised health care proposal because it weakens protections for those with pre-existing conditions.Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., sits on the powerful House committee that wrote the first GOP repeal-and-replace bill, which sank in March amid opposition from hard-line conservatives and some moderates. Those two factions have since banded together to draft a new bill — but it does not seem to be faring much better.

"I've always stated that one of the few good things about Obamacare was pre-existing conditions," Long said. The new bill "strips away any guarantee that people with pre-existing conditions could be covered at an affordable rate." This, of course, has the benefit of being true.Long, who represents a district in which Hillary Clinton didn't quite reach 25% of the vote, called his party's health care plan "unacceptable."Capitol Hill sources confirmed to me overnight that Long was seen having a spirited conversation with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) last night, and while we don't know exactly what was said, if Ryan tried to change Long's mind about the GOP legislation, it didn't work.Complicating matters, Donald Trump declared yesterday that the Republican plan is "not in its final form right now," even as White House officials and GOP leaders were trying to lock up support for the legislation, leading some rank-and-file Republicans to wonder whether Trump had re-opened negotiations over specific elements of the plan. He hadn't, but the president's ignorance interrupted his party's lobbying efforts.So, is this thing going to pass? As of this morning, congressional leaders have held off on scheduling a vote, suggesting there's a lot of head-counting and arm-twisting underway, and a few House Republicans have said they're prepared to vote for it, despite reservations, so it'll be the Senate's problem for a while. (This is a ridiculous posture, which may prove risky when it comes time to explain to voters why they voted for an atrocious plan.)The arithmetic remains roughly the same as it's been: if 23 Republicans balk at the bill, it dies. At present, there are about 20 GOP "no" votes, and a whole lot of undecideds.