On eve of critical vote, South Jersey Republican Rep. LoBiondo says he'll oppose Obamacare repeal
WASHINGTON -- South Jersey Congressman Frank LoBiondo has become the latest Republican to announce he will vote against his party's health care overhaul, breaking with GOP leadership Wednesday and dealing a blow to the bill's hopes a day before a critical full House vote.
With a number of conservatives and moderates balking, the vote is expected to be excruciatingly close, and every undecided lawmaker is being watched in a major policy battle that could affect health coverage across the country.
LoBiondo's decision imperils the promise to repeal Obamacare that has driven Republican leaders and voters for years. Despite long opposing the health law pushed by former President Obama, LoBiondo said the GOP plan is worse.
"Simply put, this bill does not meet the standards of what was promised; it is not as good as or better than what we currently have," LoBiondo said in a statement. "Accordingly, I will vote no on this healthcare plan."
GOP leaders had hoped to pass the bill through the House Thursday and Senate Republicans were was hoping to follow suit within weeks. But now, after years of promising to kill Obama's health law and finally taking control of the White House and Congress, Republicans face the prospect of stumbling at the first hurdle.
House Republicans can afford to lose no more than 22 votes and still pass the bill. Still, party leaders expressed confidence they would prevail.
"We feel like we're getting really, really close," House Speaker Paul Ryan told Fox News Wednesday. President Trump was less definitive. "We'll see what happens," he said.
LoBiondo became the second GOP Congressman from the Philadelphia area to oppose the bill, joining Bucks County's Brian Fitzpatrick -- though Fitzpatrick has not weighed in since Republican leaders announced changes intended to attract more votes.
Elsewhere in the area, Central Jersey Republican Leonard Lance said Tuesday he would oppose the measure, while South Jersey's Tom MacArthur announced he would support it. Rep. Lou Barletta, a Trump ally from Luzerne County, added his support Wednesday.
LoBiondo noted that he has previously voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, and still believes that law is failing. But he worried that the Republican replacement would hurt his constituents, particularly senior citizens.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that 24 million fewer people would be insured over the next decade under the Republican plan, and that older consumers could face sharp cost increases. Some 32 percent of LoBiondo's shore-area district is aged 55 and older, according to Census data.
"Under the current proposal, many South Jersey residents would be left with financial hardship or without the coverage they now receive," LoBiondo said. "Our seniors on Medicare already struggle to make each dollar stretch. Three South Jersey counties have more than 30 percent of their residents receiving Medicaid assistance."
The liberal think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective projected that 51,000 adults in LoBiondo's district could lose health coverage under the proposal. He represents a district that Trump won last year, but that long been competitive. Obama won the district twice.
Republican advocates say their plan would save the federal government money and loosen regulations, giving consumers and insurance companies more flexibility.
But with many worried about higher costs, cuts to Medicaid and the potential that many could lose coverage, the bill has sharply divided lawmakers from the Philadelphia region.
Reps. Pat Meehan, of Delaware County, and Ryan Costello, of Chester County, both voted for the bill in their committees, but have remained non-committal when it comes to passing the measure through the full House.
Rep. Charlie Dent, of Allentown, has expressed reservations.
MacArthur, of South Jersey, had been undecided, but got on board Tuesday after GOP leaders agreed to add $85 billion in tax credits for people aged 50 to 64 and $60 billion in Medicaid funding for the elderly and disabled.
"I got the things done that I felt mattered," said MacArthur, co-chair the Tuesday Group, a coalition of centrist House Republicans.
The GOP plan would give insurance companies more room to charge higher rates for older patients.
Lance pledged to vote no, saying the bill does not do enough to lower insurance premiums.
Gov. Wolf has bombarded lawmakers, urging them to oppose the law in letters highlighting potentially negative impacts on Pennsylvania. His official Twitter account also sent public appeals to the state's Congressmen Wednesday.
Barletta ignored Wolf's plea. He switched from "no" to "yes" after being promised a full House vote on his plan to bar people living in the U.S. illegally from receiving tax credits for health coverage.
The tax credits are a major piece of the Republican plan and would replace the existing law's subsidies.