Trump administration officials mounted a vigorous defense of their effort to repeal and replace Obamacare Sunday while bracing for what could be a skeptical assessment from the Congressional Budget Office.
Flooding the airwaves less than a week after Republicans introduced the replacement legislation and pushed it through two House committees on party-line votes, members of Trump's Cabinet claimed more Americans would be able to get health care at a reduced cost and no one would be worse off.
At the same time, they signaled their willingness to accept changes needed to accommodate conservatives in the House and Senate who have accused their leaders of crafting a bill too much in the mold of the Affordable Care Act.
The rosy forecasts will come up against estimates on coverage and cost from Congress' official scorekeeping agency as early as Monday. Health care analysts expect the budget office — headed by a Republican appointee —to project that millions of people who gained health insurance under former President Obama's Affordable Care Act will lose it under the GOP plan.
But Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price preemptively rejected such an assessment Sunday. Speaking on NBC's Meet the Press, the former House Budget Committee chairman said the Republican bill would lead to "more people covered than are covered right now, and at an average cost that is less."
And Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told ABC's This Week that the "truly indigent" will not lose out, as liberal interest groups charge. "Medicaid is still there," he said. "In fact, we think it’s going to be even better." Mulvaney also argued that CBO can't really produce a meaningful cost estimate of such sweeping legislation. "Sometimes we ask them to do stuff they’re not capable of doing, and estimating the impact of a bill of this size probably isn’t the best use of their time," he said.
That received howls of derision from Democrats who argued this is exactly CBO's job.
Hot alternative take: estimating the cost of major legislation could also be the only reason that CBO exists. https://t.co/OWnhyDT41y— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) March 12, 2017
Meanwhile, conservative lawmakers continued to criticize their own party's bill, led by Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who flatly predicted that passage in the House this spring could jeopardize Republicans' majority there in the 2018 mid-term elections.
"I would say to my friends in the House of Representatives, with whom I served, do not walk the plank and vote for a bill that cannot pass the Senate and then have to face the consequences of that vote," Cotton said on ABC.
The plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, would retain some provisions of Obama's signature domestic policy achievement, including the requirement that insurers cover those with pre-existing conditions. But it would phase out the expansion of Medicaid in 2020 — conservatives want to move up the date to the end of this year — while altering the system of tax credits and repealing penalties for those who do not buy insurance.
The bill cleared two House committees last week after marathon sessions. It still must go through two more House committees before reaching the floor, possibly by the end of March. Then it would go to the Senate, and any differences would have to be reconciled before it reached President Trump's desk.
The White House sent Price, Mulvaney and Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, to the Sunday news shows to make the case for the bill. Meanwhile, House Speaker Paul Ryan warned Republicans on CBS' Face the Nation that they would be "breaking your word" if they do not pass the plan, risking what Trump has called a "bloodbath" in the 2018 elections.
Price said on NBC that he believes "nobody will be worse off financially in the process that we're going through, understanding that they'll have choices that they can select the kind of coverage that they want for themselves and for their family, not the government forces them to buy."
All the administration officials emphasized that Trump would consider changes to the bill, as well as follow-on legislation to add such elements as allowing insurers to sell policies across state lines.
"Anyone that comes up with an improvement, we are more than happy to accept. In fact the president wants to implement many of these improvements," Cohn said on Fox News Sunday.