Health care vote looming, Democratic Rep. Joe Kennedy slams GOP for poor 'backroom deal' effort


Republicans are again inching toward a vote on their plan to repeal and replace Obamacare this week, hoping to bring the revised bill to a floor vote before the House breaks for recess on Thursday.

The GOP is using the congressional reconciliation process -- which only requires a simple majority of 216 votes to pass a bill -- to move their Affordable Care Act replacement through the House.

CNN reports the vote count is anything but solid as moderate Republicans come out in opposition to conservative pandering amendments that were added to the revised bill.

SEE ALSO: Obama points out Obamacare is more popular than Trump

"Once we get to 216 we'll stop counting," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said during his Monday briefing. "We're getting closer and closer every day."

When it comes to process, Democratic Rep. Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts says Republicans have set up rules so they can move through a bill before the American people get a chance to know what's in it.

"This is not an effort to actually engage in good policy," Kennedy told AOL News. "[Republicans] are not trying to find a way to get to yes with Democrats on this bill. They're trying to find a way to satisfy a promise that they never thought they were going to have to do."

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Republicans don't need Democratic votes as long as their Republican 216 vote count looks achievable. In the aftermath of the GOP's inability to court critical votes from the conservative House Freedom Caucus -- leading Speaker Paul Ryan to pull the first go at their American Health Care Act -- new amendments like one offering states the ability to opt out of providing coverage for those with pre-existing conditions have upped the conservative vote tally.

Moderate Republicans, though, are now voicing their opposition. Multiple Republican congressmen pulled their support for the Obamacare replacement bill on Monday, including Rep. Billy Long of Missouri, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida.

"This is not how you structure a bill if you are proud of it," Kennedy said about the GOP's Obamacare replacement -- which studies show will strip coverage from some 24 million Americans. "If you have confidence in your legislative solutions to the problems, this is not how you vote on it. You'd be wiling to engage potential opponents, to debate, to answer their questions. You would be confident in having it vetted by doctors, hospitals, nurses, seniors and veterans. You wouldn't be trying to find a way to cut a back-room deal by members of your Caucus so then the moment you could count the 216 or 218 votes, to rush this through with no notice before people had a chance to vet it or explain the impacts, or explain to the American public what it means for them and their families."

"If you're not willing to at least stand behind a bill and say 'This is what it is. This is what it does. I'm proud of it,' it's probably a good indication that you think it's a bad bill."

Coverage for people with a history of illness is one of the most popular elements of the Affordable Care Act, and is for this reason something President Trump and Republicans have continually promised as an included element of their replacement plan. Trump recently guaranteed coverage for those with pre-existing conditions during a CBS News interview, but as the New York Times notes, "Mr. Trump appeared to be unfamiliar with details of the amendment that would allow states to obtain a waiver permitting insurers to charge higher premiums based on a person's 'health status.'"

"It basically became a new rite for people," says CNN political director David Chalian of coverage for pre-existing conditions in the Daily DC podcast. "The country can't conceive of a health care system now that doesn't include that -- that's how popular it is and undoing that would be a very, very bad political vote."

Kennedy -- who is the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy -- ripped the GOP's first attempt to pass the American Health Care Act during a hearing earlier this session, calling the Obamacare replacement an "act of malice." The Democratic official also spoke during the hearing in strong support of an amendment on behalf of the seven Planned Parenthood clinics in Massachusetts that Kennedy says serve roughly 33,000 patients per year.

The congressman from Massachusetts isn't the only House member expressing criticism of GOP strategy and process around health care. Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn, an ardent vocal opponent of former president Barack Obama's signature health care law, told AOL News she thinks the initial roll out of the AHCA was "a bit botched,"

"There was not the time spent on messaging," Blackburn told AOL News. "Explaining the number of hours that had gone into this, It was something that was going to take a couple years to untangle this massive web that Obamacare had created."

Blackburn also says Republican leadership failed to correctly frame the multi-step process of repealing and replacing Obamacare, which she believes is going to take "a couple of years."

"We as Republicans have to learn that you have to establish the predicate," Blackburn said. "We are going to incrementally get this law off the books. It's not going to be done with one stroke of the pen."

As Obamacare's national popularity surges, Kennedy touts his home state of Massachusetts as a successful example of where bi-partisan effort led to a relatively sustainable insurance structure. In the state where former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney once oversaw the 2006 implementation of ACA blueprint Romneycare, Bay Staters see a 3.6 unemployment rate and 2.8 percent uninsured rate.

"The bottom line is that if you have a bipartisan commitment to make this law work, you can make it work pretty well," Kennedy says.

Despite strong opposition from Democrats and newly-felt distance from middle-right Republicans, senior White House economic adviser Gary Cohn spoke optimistically when asked where the vote count stands on Monday.

"Do we have the health care votes? I think we do," Cohn said. "This is going to be a great week."