((AP Photo/Andrew Harnik))

Tom Price in the crosshairs: Conservatives focus anger on Trump's health secretary over American Health Care Act

Breitbart and talk-radio hosts are finding a new target for their Trumpcare rage


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Sophia Tesfaye
March 23, 2017 9:20PM (UTC)

Conservatives are beginning to eat their own in the debate over replacing and repealing the Affordable Care Act.

As President Donald Trump struggles to negotiate a deal with the most right-wing caucus in the House, conservatives who have spent the last several months celebrating the complete Republican takeover of federal government and mocking liberals are beginning to wake up to the idea that they have been swindled.

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Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has suddenly come under criticism from conservative media, after he argued this week that the White House-backed health care plan is better than a complete repeal of what Republicans have derisively referred to as Obamacare. (In contrast some far-right members of Congress this week have been taking the position that they prefer to just repeal Obamacare than adopt Trumpcare.)

On Sunday, Price, a former conservative Georgia congressman, told ABC’s “This Week" that a full repeal of Obamacare would “put vulnerable people at risk.” He added: “What that does is place vulnerable people at risk, and that’s not something that the president’s willing to do; it’s not something that he said he would do.”

While a full repeal of the health care law would certainly “put vulnerable people at risk,” as Price pointed out, this week conservatives have highlighted a Congressional Budget Office report that found a full repeal of Obamacare would leave 1 million more Americans insured than would adopting Trumpcare.

Price, who wrote in 2009,“Republicans, by firmly embracing conservative solutions-based traditions, can rise again and set the best course for America,” now finds himself fending off attacks from his right flank as he attempts to sell legislation that his boss’ favorite media outlet, Breitbart, calls “Obamacare 2.0”:

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“Tom Price himself has already confirmed, as he essentially did during confirmation hearings, that he subscribes to the basic premise of Obamacare about pre-existing conditions and doesn’t WANT to repeal them” in the ACHA bill, David Horowitz, a senior editor at the Conservative Review, wrote on Wednesday.

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“Knowing this background,” about Price, Horowoitz wrote, “if you believe Republicans will ever have the will or political capital to repeal the regulations AFTER passing this disaster, I have some insurance plans to sell you in eastern Tennessee.”

Horowitz’s column, titled “Tom Price confirms what we knew: Republicans never intended to repeal Obamacare,” was shared on Twitter by right-wing radio host Mark Levin.

For his part, Price has prodded divided Republicans to “get together and collaborate” on a health care overhaul.

“At some point, you’ve got to put down the pens, and the hour is late,” Price told conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday. “There were a number of amendments that were rolled out yesterday that address a lot of the concerns that people had, so the bill has moved, I think, in a better direction. . . . We’ve done some things here at the department that I think are really important, and we’ll be addressing more of them this week and as the weeks roll by.”

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But far from the hard-line Republican lawmakers seeing Price as serving as a bridge to his former conservative House colleagues, they have remained skeptical about him, thinking he may toss his conservative principles aside to get a deal.

“It’s incumbent upon Congress to act and say ‘This is the plan’ and then look at how a new HHS secretary might help with that process, not the other way around,” North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, recently told reporters. Pointing to Price’s role pushing Trumpcare, Meadows cautioned, “it really perverts our constitutional role.”

Concerning the Price-negotiated last-minute changes to Trumpcare on Monday night, Meadows said they don't go far enough.

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“They won’t have the votes unless they change it” further, Meadows said on Friday. Meadows noted that an added Medicaid work requirement night still “doesn’t move the ball more than a couple yards on a very long playing field.”

Republicans are doing exactly what they accused Democrats of doing in 2010. They are rewriting their bill behind closed doors in the dead of the night ahead of a crucial House vote (on Thursday).

Nearly 50 percent of Americans oppose Trumpcare, according to a polling average from Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com. A Quinnipiac poll released on Thursday, as the White House tries to wrangle House Republicans to support the GOP-backed bill, found that 48 percent of white voters without a college degree — a major part of Trump's base — disapprove of Trumpcare.

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Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's Deputy Politics Editor and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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