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Koch Group Says Republican Health Plan Doesn't Go Far Enough

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(Bloomberg) — Leaders from the influential Koch political network expressed concern about the Senate Republican plan to reshape the nation’s health system, saying as they met with donors at a Colorado resort that the measure isn’t sufficiently conservative.

“We’ve been disappointed that movement has not been more dramatic toward a full repeal or a broader rollback of this law, Obamacare,” Tim Phillips, the president of the Koch-affiliated political advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity, told reporters.

(Related: What Donors Want From the Lawmakers They Helped Elect)

“We worked to make the House bill better and it did get better,” he said. “We’re doing the same thing on the Senate front.”

Unveiled on Thursday as a discussion draft after weeks of work done in secret by a small number of lawmakers, the Senate plan was immediately criticized by Democrats and some Republicans. Five Senate Republicans have said they oppose the bill in its current form.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can only afford two defections from his party to pass the bill in the 100-member chamber.

Opposition from the Koch network, which has delivered tens of millions of dollars to Republican candidates and causes in recent years, promises to further complicate the perilous path McConnell faces.

‘Can Get Done’

“We still think this can get done,” Phillips said. “It has to get better.”

Phillips spoke on the first day of a three-day donor retreat at a luxury Rocky Mountains resort in Colorado Springs, Colo. He was also among those who met Friday evening with Vice President Mike Pence ahead of the event.

“It was a good, cordial discussion of issues, including health care,” Phillips said of his talk with Pence.

Pence also huddled privately on Friday with billionaire Charles Koch. The vice president, who has long ties to the Koch brothers, had been at the resort for a fund-raiser for Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, who will also speak at the Koch event.

Phillips praised President Donald Trump for his judicial appointments and said his five-month-old administration deserved an “A-plus” for efforts to reduce regulations. “There is a lot of respect from us for what they’ve done,” he said.

On Sunday, the group will hear from Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who’s gained national prominence in the past year as a Trump critic. Other Republican senators scheduled to appear include Mike Lee of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas, Jeff Flake of Arizona, and John Cornyn of Texas.

Policy and Campaigns

Four Republican governors are also on the schedule: Greg Abbott of Texas, Matt Bevin of Kentucky, Eric Greitens of Missouri and Doug Ducey of Arizona.

Phillips reiterated a previously stated Koch network goal of spending between $300 million and $400 million on policy and political campaigns in 2017 and 2018, up from the roughly $250 million invested in the 2016 campaign season. Some of the money will be spread across Koch-affiliated groups to expand a political network that has a presence in 36 states.

“We think it is going to be on the high end of that range,” Phillips said.

Phillips and other Koch network panelists who met with reporters expressed none of the angst that some conservatives have voiced about the early months of Trump’s administration.

Under different circumstances, the gathering of wealthy donors at the five-star Broadmoor resort might have been celebrating policy victories harvested from Republican control of the White House and both chambers of Congress. Instead, Trump is embroiled in multiple investigations into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and potential collusion by his campaign.

Regulatory Rollback

Other than the appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, filling a seat vacant for over a year, the network has little to show for its investments in recent years. The Affordable Care Act remains law, there’s been little progress on overhauling the nation’s tax system, and there’s a distinct possibility trade will become more restrictive, counter to the Koch preference for free markets.

Still, James Davis, spokesman for the Koch political network, downplayed the notion that the Trump administration hasn’t accomplished much yet from the group’s wish-list. Instead, he pointed to a reduction in “burdensome regulations” and discussions about changing the tax system.

“There’s been more progress in the last six months at the federal level than there has been in last 10 years,” he said.

The Koch brothers and their network didn’t support Trump’s campaign. The organization has also denounced several of the president’s positions, including the proposed travel ban on some refugees and immigrants. Freedom Partners, another group partially funded by the Koch brothers, has also warned that Trump’s call for a $1 trillion infrastructure package could become a “spending boondoggle.”

‘Just a Show’

The network, which has more than 700 donors who give a minimum of $100,000 a year, has convened the seminar twice annually since 2003. It last met in January, days after Trump’s inauguration.

Chris Rufer, a libertarian-leaning Koch donor who runs a vast tomato-processing business in California’s Central Valley, said he sees little reason for optimism from Washington.

“It’s just a show and they really don’t do much,” said Rufer, who’s belonged to the network for about a decade. “They are truly incompetent in Washington.”

Earlier on Saturday, former National Football League star Deion Sanders defended the Koch brothers as unfairly demonized. Sanders attended the meeting as part of a fund-raising effort for the anti-poverty nonprofit group Stand Together, which is backed by Charles Koch. 

— Read 4 ACA Change Paths That Just Got More Popular on ThinkAdvisor.


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