President Trump’s supporters are increasingly agitating for him to ditch the Republican healthcare plan, and are tying it to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to make their point.
Breitbart, the conservative news site formerly run by top Trump strategist and former campaign chairman Stephen Bannon, consistently calls the bill “Ryancare” rather than “Trumpcare,” and does not intend the moniker as a compliment.
Trump confidante Christopher Ruddy of Newsmax Media published a column urging the president to abandon both the bill and its conservative detractors by reverting to his more government-friendly vision of healthcare reform.
“Speaker Paul Ryan and the establishment GOP have pulled a fast one on President Trump,” Trump-friendly Fox News pundit Eric Bolling argued in an op-ed.
When Breitbart published audio of Ryan all but disavowing Trump ahead of the presidential election, the accompanying story was largely about the healthcare bill.
“Now, Ryan — still the Speaker — has pushed now President Donald Trump to believe his healthcare legislation the American Health Care Act would repeal and replace Obamacare when it does not repeal Obamacare,” wrote Matthew Boyle.
Even conservatives who aren’t necessarily aligned with Trump are starting to think Ryan and other House Republicans are trying to pull a fast one on the president.
“I think that Paul Ryan’s selling him a bill of goods that he didn’t explain to the president, and the grassroots doesn’t want what Paul Ryan is selling,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said Wednesday.
Publicly, the White House has said Trump is still working with Republicans to make the bill work, and turn it into something that can pass the House and Senate and can be presented as a victory. But conservatives find themselves in the unlikely position of hoping that Trump, a past supporter of single-payer healthcare, will rescue them from a bill pushed by Ryan, the foremost proponent of free-market reform of the American welfare state over the past decade.
Heritage Action CEO Mike Needham told reporters on a conference call Monday that Trump was “still in a listening mode” on healthcare reform, “extremely open-minded” and “looking for good ideas.”
“I’m worried the attitude coming from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue is ‘take it or leave it,'” Needham said, citing Ryan’s comment that Republicans face a “binary choice” between the House bill and failing to fulfill a campaign promise on Obamacare.
“Ryancare is in a precarious position in the House and it is not even close to having enough votes to pass in the Senate,” Needham added. He praised Vice President Pence for standing up to a Republican president and “arm-twisting” GOP congressional leaders by voting against the deficit-funded Medicare Part D while a member of the House.
But the campaign provided examples that indicate Trump is not ready to run toward conservatives who are urging him to take a tougher stance. Trump has never shared Pence’s convictions on controlling entitlement spending, and even the vice president came under fire for accepting a modified version of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion while governor of Indiana.
“I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid,” Trump told the Daily Signal, a conservative news site created by the Heritage Foundation, in 2015.
“Everybody’s got to be covered,” Trump said of his preferred Obamacare replacement in an interview with “60 Minutes” that same year.
“We’re gonna come up with a new plan that’s going to be better healthcare for more people at a lesser cost,” Trump remarked to ABC News in January.
When Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, pressed Trump on his healthcare views during a GOP presidential debate last year, Trump replied, “We’ll have private health care, but I will not allow people to die on the sidewalks and the streets of our country if I’m president.”
All this would seem to imply that Trump would be more interested in having a healthcare bill that is more competitive with Obamacare when it comes to the total number of people covered — and perhaps more in tune with moderate Republicans in the Senate who are wary of Medicaid cuts than House Freedom Caucus members worried about “Obamacare lite.”
That theory seemed to be confirmed when the Congressional Budget Office projected that the GOP’s American Health Care Act would cover 14 million fewer people than Obamacare in 2018 and 24 million fewer by 2026, and the White House pushed back.
“As far as their numbers go and the number of people they predicted back then they were off by more than half,” press secretary Sean Spicer said during his press briefing Monday.
Moreover, conservative lawmakers and activists have frequently come away from meetings with the administration believing Trump was more sympathetic to making changes to the bill than Ryan or congressional leaders.
On Wednesday, Ryan said the bill is a group effort that has involved input from Republicans in the House, Senate and White House, a sign that Trump has not given up yet despite the growing pressure on his administration to cut bait. He said it was “insulting” for Sen. Paul to suggest that GOP lawmakers were looking to dupe Trump.
“Obviously the major components are staying intact, because this is something we wrote with President Trump, this is something we wrote with the Senate committees,” Ryan told Fox Business. “This is the plan we ran on all of last year, this is the plan that we’ve been working — House, Senate, White House — together on.”
But conservatives are getting antsy, and are wondering when Trump will insist on tougher language. Conservative commentator Laura Ingraham, who was linked late last year to potential jobs in the administration, complained on Fox News that the House bill at this point is still lacking the “Trumpiest” parts of healthcare reform.