COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The head of the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity admitted to donors on Sunday that the group was caught “flat-footed" by the fight in Congress to replace Obamacare, as the group seeks to influence Republican proposals it says do not go far enough to repeal the 2010 law.
“We fully expected a repeal vote,” Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips told hundreds of donors at the Koch network’s annual seminar at the Broadmoor Resort. “We were caught flat-footed when it didn’t happen."
He added: “This has been humbling for us.”
Americans for Prosperity and other Koch network groups have been critical of the GOP replacement efforts, arguing they don’t do enough to rein in costs or undo President Barack Obama’s signature achievement. The group opposed the first House repeal attempt but backed a later version negotiated by House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows and New Jersey Rep. Tom MacArthur.
The group has been critical of the Senate’s draft, with Phillips telling reporters on Saturday the proposal was “disappointing,” but has stopped short of out-and-out opposing the law.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), speaking to a donor lunch, declined to take a position on the legislation. But he pointed out Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn in the crowd and said he had a bruise on his collarbone from Cornyn putting his thumb on him. Two other senators in attendance, Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas, have said they oppose the current version of the legislation.
Cornyn, speaking to reporters, said the bill was on track for a vote this week but acknowledged that it would be tough to get the votes needed for passage.
“It’s going to be close,” he said.
Phillips warned the donors they had a limited amount of time to change policy at the federal level because of the looming 2018 elections. The network’s top priority in that time? Tax reform, not health care.
“We have a window of about 12 months until the 2018 election grinds policy to a halt,” he said. “We’ve learned from health care that we can’t take anything for granted.”
The group sent three members of the House Freedom Caucus — Florida Rep. Ron DeSantis, North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows and Virginia Rep. Dave Brat — to pitch their vision for tax reform to reporters. The group strongly opposes proposals for a border adjustment tax, which both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Ways and Means Committee Chair Kevin Brady have backed.
"The B.A.T. is D.O.A. in the Congress," DeSantis said. "The Phillies have a better chance of winning the World Series this year than BAT has [of] passing.” (The Phillies have the worst record in baseball and are 25 games under .500.)
Meadows said President Donald Trump told him he doesn’t support the tax either.
"The speaker now understands that he does not have the votes on the BAT," he said of Ryan.
Network leaders said they also were pleased with the Trump administration’s efforts on the federal judiciary, regulatory reform, education reform and in other areas. But the group warned donors significant losses in the midterm elections could block progress.
“This midterm election cycle is far more difficult than in recent years,” said Emily Seidel, a top official at Freedom Partners, another Koch-backed organization. She said liberal political groups were seeing donations booming and had growing budgets to match the donors’ largesse. “We are facing a reinvigorated left.”