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GOP health care bill advances despite opposition from conservatives

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The House Budget Committee narrowly advanced the GOP health care plan Thursday morning despite "no" votes by three conservatives on the panel, underscoring Republicans' disagreements over the legislation as it moves closer to a vote on the House floor.

The budget panel by 19-17 passed the American Health Care Act, which now heads to the House Rules Committee.

Republican Reps. Mark Sanford, Dave Brat and Gary Palmer, who are members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, joined Democratic committee members in voting against the measure. A fourth Republican "no" vote would have stalled the bill.

The three GOP representatives were the first Republican votes against the plan to repeal and replace Obamacare since the bill's introduction last week.

"We did not encourage them to vote no," Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, told reporters Thursday afternoon. "Our members have unbelievable resolve in making sure this bill get changes so it helps their constituencies back home."

House GOP leadership and the White House are working hard to sell the measure to both conservatives and moderates in the party who have different sets of concerns about the bill. With Democrats expected to vote as a bloc against the legislation, Republicans can afford to lose only 21 votes to pass the bill through the House.

"I’m a very strong man of faith but I think if St. Peter called and said 'You need to vote for this bill to get to heaven,' I’d say, 'St. Peter, I can’t do it,'" Rep. Walter Jones, R-North Carolina, told reporters Thursday when asked how he will vote on the bill.

Jones said he thinks legislators are moving too fast on the health care plan.

Among Republican conservatives in the House, primary concerns include the proposal's refundable tax credits; whether the bill would do enough to lower insurance premiums; and their desire that proposed changes to the Medicaid program take effect earlier.

House Speaker Paul Ryan is acknowledging that Republicans will have to tweak the measure for it to win House passage.

"We're making refinements based upon the feedback we’re getting from our members," Ryan said in a news conference Thursday. “The goal here is get to a bill that ... we can pass and that is actually great policy, and the president playing a very constructive role on this.”

The bill will also likely require significant revisions in the Senate, where Republicans can afford to lose only three GOP votes. Senate Republicans from states that expanded Medicaid coverage under Obamacare have signaled opposition to the bill's changes to the program, while conservative members have also objected to several provisions.

"I think we're going to have negotiation," President Trump said of the bill in an interview with Fox News on Wednesday.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office in its analysis of the bill estimates that 14 million more Americans would be uninsured next year under the American Health Care Act.

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