GOP Senator Tom Cotton Complicates Trump, Ryan Efforts on Health Care

by Erica Werner and Kevin Freking, The Associated Press  on Friday, Mar. 17, 2017 7:46 am  

Tom Cotton

WASHINGTON — One of the loudest critics of GOP health legislation is not a Democrat or even a conservative rebel, but a Republican loyalist and staunch defender of President Donald Trump.

Freshman Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas is not known for clashing with leadership or plotting with conservative trouble-makers in the House, as Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas are wont to do. Instead the 39-year-old Iraq and Afghanistan combat veteran, the nation's youngest senator, has carved out a hawkish and bold profile on foreign policy that many see as a platform for a future presidential run.

And now Cotton, who won his seat in 2014 partly by lambasting his Democratic predecessor for supporting Barack Obama's health care bill, is very publicly on the attack against the House health legislation backed by Speaker Paul Ryan and the White House.

Cotton is warning House Republicans against voting for the bill, cautioning that it could die in the Senate and cause political pain for all its supporters, and threatening to withhold his own vote unless it becomes more to his liking.

"There's a long history in modern politics of House members walking the plank for legislation that not only fails to become law but never even gets a vote in the Senate," Cotton, a one-term House member before coming to the Senate, said in an interview in his office Thursday. "I don't want to see something like that happen to my old friends in the House of Representatives."

He warned, "The House majority could be at risk if we get health care reform wrong."

The House GOP bill is the party's attempt, with control of both chambers of Congress and the White House, to finally make good on seven years' worth of promises to repeal and replace Obama's health care law. It eliminates the "Obamacare" mandate to buy health insurance, limits tax credits and unwinds a Medicaid expansion, but some conservatives say it doesn't go far enough. Cotton criticizes the legislation for failing to adequately keep down health care costs and premiums, arguing that the bill must do more to eliminate regulations from the Affordable Care Act.

Cotton's opposition, which he's broadcast in multiple TV and radio interviews and over Twitter, has raised eyebrows in the Capitol where a number of GOP senators have misgivings about the bill, but many are more restrained in expressing them. Ryan and other GOP leaders have chafed at Cotton's repeated calls to slow down the health care bill, which leadership is eager to get through Congress by Easter.

"We're been working at this literally for seven years," said the No. 2 Senate Republican, John Cornyn. "This isn't going to get any easier the longer we leave it hanging out there."

Asked on Hugh Hewitt's radio show about Cotton's opposition, Ryan replied, "I love this, because we've gotten criticized by other folks in the conservative movement for waiting too long."

Republican leaders in the House and Senate have been pointedly urging their ranks to think about the need to govern, after serving almost exclusively as an opposition party for eight years under Obama. Up until now opposition is the only stance newer lawmakers like Cotton have experienced, but he makes no apologies, accusing House leaders of rushing the bill through committee last week before getting an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office.

"Introducing legislation on Monday night and then voting on it on Wednesday without a CBO estimate is not my model of a governing party," Cotton said.



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