Miami Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart voted Thursday for the American Health Care Act, the House GOP’s controversial proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act.
Both congressmen had refused to divulge their positions on the legislation ahead of the high-profile vote. Their districts have among the highest Obamacare enrollment rates in the country; Curbelo in particular is politically vulnerable in the Democratic-leaning 26th district.
“I refuse to condemn my community and the country to a health care system burdened by ever-increasing costs, fewer options, government threats and fines against citizens, rampant fraud, inefficiency, and mismanagement,” Curbelo said in a statement. “So along with my colleagues, I’ve been working on legislation to create a truly patient-centered healthcare system where every American has access to quality care.”
Curbelo highlighted improvements from the original version of the AHCA, which was pulled before a vote in April because GOP leaders knew it would fail. That time, Curbelo refused to take a position on the bill.
Since then, Curbelo said, lawmakers secured $38 billion to help more vulnerable patients get access to health insurance, and $1.5 billion in Low Income Pool money for public safety-net hospitals, like Miami’s Jackson Memorial.
Still, he noted the legislation continues to need work, and said he’s reached out to the Senate, which will now take up the proposal.
“Today’s vote is just a step in the legislative process for this bill — not the end of it,” Curbelo said. “We have worked hard to improve the legislation, but we have a long way to go.”
His spokeswoman said Curbelo was making a “game-time decision” on the vote. But moments after he voted yes, his office released pre-taped video statements in English and Spanish explaining his decision. His staff later said Curbelo prepared two sets of statements to be able to provide an immediate explanation of his decision once he made it.
Curbelo and Diaz-Balart’s local colleague, Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who announced her retirement from Congress earlier this week, voted no, as she had promised. She was the only Florida Republican to do so, along with all Florida Democrats.
The bill needed 216 votes to pass. It passed 217-213.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which considers Curbelo one of its top 2018 targets, was quick to bash his vote. In a statement, Chairman Ben Ray Luján accused Curbelo of voting to “increase your health insurance premiums and deductibles, toss 24 million Americans off of their insurance, and to slap you with an age tax if you're age 50 to 64.”
“Make no mistake about it: Curbelo must face the music, look his constituents in the eye, and answer for the mess they created,” Luján said.
For his part, Diaz-Balart explained his vote by criticizing Obamacare as a system that “is collapsing and on its way out.” His 25th district includes portions of Collier and Hendry counties, where the ACA offers only one insurance provider; Miami-Dade will drop next year from six to three, Diaz-Balart said in a statement.
“Knowing the people I represent could very well lose their coverage, just like Iowa residents did yesterday when their state marketplace collapsed, is disturbing,” he said. “It would be irresponsible for Congress not to act in order to prevent this from happening.”
Like Curbelo, Diaz-Balart — who backed the original AHCA version pulled from the House — focused on changes made in recent weeks, though he called the legislation “far from perfect.”
Democrats were united in their opposition.
“The American Health Care Act takes health care away from the poor and gives tax breaks to the rich, which is both immoral and irresponsible,” Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Miami Gardens Democrat, said in a statement. “Moreover, the legislation has not been scored by the Congressional Budget Office, so we have no idea what the economic cost of this travesty will be.”