Politics & Government

California House Republicans hesitate to back GOP Obamacare repeal bill

Republican Rep. Tom McClintock bends his ear to hear questions from a boisterous crowd during his town hall meeting at Oak Ridge High School in El Dorado Hills, Calif., Saturday, March 4, 2017.
Republican Rep. Tom McClintock bends his ear to hear questions from a boisterous crowd during his town hall meeting at Oak Ridge High School in El Dorado Hills, Calif., Saturday, March 4, 2017. AP

Embattled California House Republicans, representing areas dependent on Obamacare and facing angry protesters, are balking at supporting their party’s bill to repeal and replace the health care law.

Congressman Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, who faced hundreds of protesters at raucous town halls, is among those who is not committing to back the bill pushed by Republican leadership.

McClintock said he’s “looking at it” and wouldn’t elaborate when asked whether he has specific concerns.

It’s a common theme among Republicans from California’s interior who represent some of the most Obamacare-dependent areas in the nation. In some of their districts at least one in seven constituents get help.

“We are still reviewing the legislation,” said Anna Vetter, spokeswoman for Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford.

About half of Americans still have health care through their employers. The Affordable Care Act affected employer-based health care plans, changing rules on lifetime limits and pre-existing conditions, birth control and much more. If the Trump adm

Valadao has more than 111,000 constituents receiving direct benefits from Obamacare, according to figures compiled by the consumer advocacy group Health Access.

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, also has more than 100,000 Obamacare-dependent constituents. Denham is “still reviewing the bill” to repeal and replace the law and is not prepared to comment on its merits.

Republican leaders are likely to need their support. While the GOP has a strong majority in the House, the legislation will fail if about 20 Republicans vote no and, as expected, all Democrats vote the same way. The House currently has five vacancies, making it difficult to say precisely how many Republicans will be needed.

California embraced Obamacare more than any other state, especially through the expansion of Medi-Cal, the state version of the federal Medicaid program for low-income people. The bill would slash federal Medicaid spending by capping it at a predetermined amount per recipient beginning in 2019.

California’s Democrats in Congress are lining up in unified opposition to the bill.

“The Republicans are in a tough place,” said Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove. “They are having trouble finding support for the bill in their own caucus.”

Nationwide, the bill is raising concerns among Republican moderates in the Senate. In the House, conservatives argue it doesn’t go far enough in dismantling Obamacare.

California Republicans don’t have much time to take a position. Committee hearings on the bill began Wednesday with hopes for full House vote to soon follow.

Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, said he needs to study the bill more before deciding whether he’ll support it.

“I don’t think it would be wise to take a firm position on it,” LaMalfa said. “It’s a very moving target and there’s going to be a lot of discussion, possibly a lot of amendments, over the next two weeks or so.”

LaMalfa said he wants to support something that provides relief to middle-income constituents. He said he’s heard their concerns about lack of choice and higher premiums and deductibles under Obamacare.

House Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, is a key figure in pushing the bill. He expressed confidence Wednesday that the measure will pass.

“Repealing and replacing Obamacare with this plan offers the American people freedom, protection, and compassion,” McCarthy wrote in a Wednesday op-ed along with House budget chair Diane Black, R-Tenn.

Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, said the bill would “ration care and drive up costs for hard working families.”

“Hundreds of people in my district have filled my town halls, called my office and written me about how they rely on the (Affordable Care Act’s) benefits,” Matsui said.

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, said people in his district are frightened about their ability to stay healthy and get medical care if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.

“I think we are going to find that Americans are going to say: Wait, wait wait. You are doing what to me? What are you doing to me? You are taking away my health insurance?” Garamendi said. “I suspect that will lead to a rebellion of some sort.”

Sean Cockerham: 202-383-6016, @seancockerham