For the past week, the question swirling around the House Republican proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act has been whether or not the GOP leadership could produce enough votes to pass the bill on the floor of the House. But a surprise announcement on Wednesday by a rising figure on the conservative right wing of the party raised the possibility that the bill might not even make it there in the first place.
Virginia Rep. Dave Brat, who rose to prominence by defeating the incumbent House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, in a primary election in 2014, said that he will not support the House leadership-proposed American Health Care Act when it comes up for a vote in the House Budget Committee. Brat is one of three members of the hard-right Freedom Caucus who sit on the Budget Committee, and if he turns out to be a bellwether for the votes of the other two -- South Carolina’s Mark Sanford and Alabama’s Gary Palmer -- the GOP would find itself in a perilous spot.
Republicans have a large advantage in numbers on the committee, with 22 votes to the Democrats’ 14, but the Democrats are expected to unanimously oppose the bill, meaning that if the GOP loses all three Freedom Caucus members, it would take only one more Republican defector to deprive the party of a majority.
The Budget Committee would be an ironic place for the AHCA to die, given that the entire Republican plan is premised on the idea of using a budget reconciliation measure to hustle the legislation through the Senate, where it would not be subject to the filibuster.
The role of the Budget Committee in the process was not expected to be significant -- the members will not be permitted to offer amendments. They were expected to meld versions of the bill that came out of the House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees and forward the result to the Rules Committee to set up a vote on final passage.
But Brat’s public defiance of House leadership comes at a time when opposition to the AHCA bill is growing among both conservatives and what remains of the moderate faction of the GOP, though for different reasons.
Brat is a Ph.D. economist popular with the Tea Party, who taught and Randolph-Macon College outside Richmond before running for office. He said that he objects to the House leadership’s refusal to entertain amendments to the bill, and that he can’t accept a “repeal” of the Affordable Care Act that doesn’t eliminate new regulations that the law placed on the health insurance industry.
As of late Wednesday, it was unclear where the other Freedom Caucus members on the Budget Committee stood on the bill.