Colorado Springs (CNN)As growing opposition imperiled passage of the Senate version of the healthcare bill, leaders of the conservative Koch network voiced sharp criticism of the legislation at their donor retreat here — stating that the bill needed dramatic changes before they would support it.
The Koch network announced Saturday that they plan between $300 and $400 million on their political and policy objectives during the 2018 political cycle as Democrats wage an intense battle to win control of the House. The network has made the repeal of Obamacare a central focus of their political and policy work. They believe that neither the House, nor the Senate version achieve that goal.
“This Senate bill needs to get better. It has to get better,” said Tim Phillips, a top lieutenant in the network who recently met with White House officials to outline their proposed changes to the health care system.
The proposed changes to Medicaid, Phillips said, were unacceptable, because they just amount to tinkering around the edges rather than reforming the program. The Senate bill would dramatically scale back federal support of Medicaid and phase out the money that the government has provided to expand eligibility for Medicaid in the states.
Several GOP senators have announced their opposition to the Senate bill in its current form. Among them are conservative senators Mike Lee and Ted Cruz, who believe the bill does not go far enough and are attending the Koch network donor retreat this weekend. For several other senators, like Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, the cuts to Medicaid go too far. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can only lose two members in order to win passage for the bill.
‘The bill is not going to fix healthcare’
The Koch network has strongly opposed the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare — arguing that by adding people to the rolls, the quality of care for the most vulnerable Medicaid recipients has plummeted.
“It was a struggling — frankly failing — program before this dramatic expansion,” said Phillips, President of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch network’s political organizing arm.
“To simply say we’re going to do a slight nip and tuck to a program that — because of Obamacare — has added millions and millions of people is frankly immoral. It’s not right to do that.”
“At the end of the day, this bill is not going to fix healthcare,” said James Davis, a spokesman for the network during an afternoon session with reporters. “We are going to be focusing our efforts out into the future on how we can fix it.”
Phillips, a top lieutenant with the network, noted that the organization was louder in their opposition to House version earlier this year, because they wanted to remind White House and Congressional officials that repealing Obamacare “was a promise that had been made to repeal Obamacare during four consecutive national elections beginning in 2010, and that the vast majority of members had pledged that.”
Activists with the network have been more engaged in negotiations on the Senate bill, which is one reason they are in a wait-and-see mode.
‘We are more optimistic’
Charles Koch, who was a vociferous critic of Donald Trump during the 2012 presidential campaign, did not mention the bill or the President as he welcomed hundreds of donors to the historic Broadmoor Hotel at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain Saturday evening. (Koch met with Vice President Mike Pence on Friday). Instead he praised the depth and breadth of his organization, which will hold a series of seminars this weekend focused on their legislative priorities, including criminal justice reform, education, tax reform and poverty.
Health care promises made by candidate Trump
“We are more optimistic now about what we can accomplish than we have ever been,” he said in remarks to donors, noting the group’s work propelling the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
Earlier Saturday, the network announced a new partnership with football star Deion Sanders. The Koch network pledged to spend $21 million on the joint initiative with Sanders to reduce persistent poverty in Dallas.
Six senators are taking part in the seminars this weekend: Senators John Cornyn, Cory Gardner, Jeff Flake, Ben Sasse, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee; along with four Governors: Greg Abbott of Texas, Matt Bevin of Kentucky, Eric Greitens of Missouri, and Doug Ducey of Arizona.