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Jody Hice: Georgia's last GOP health care holdout

WASHINGTON -- For U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, the moment he decided to support the Republican health care bill came during a private meeting with President Donald Trump. The conservative Republican Study Committee had just successfully lobbied Trump, in the Oval Office no less, for a handful of changes to the legislation that would push it farther to the right.

“After we had our discussion, the president went around the room and … asked, ‘If we include these items in this bill, are you with me?’ And 100 percent of the people in the room told him yes," Loudermilk recalled in an interview Friday.

The changes, however, have not been enough to get every wary Republican on board with the American Health Care Act, a development that has GOP vote counters sweating.

Among those final holdouts is second-term U.S. Rep. Jody Hice.

The Monroe Republican is a member of the Republican Study Committee. He's also on the board of the House Freedom Caucus, the group of roughly 40 arch-conservatives rebels that said Friday the new changes weren't enough to get them on board. (Loudermilk was a member of the group until recently.)

Some Freedom Caucus members previously said the original bill left too much of Obamacare's architecture in place and did not scrap the law's Medicaid expansion quickly enough. Others worried the bill's refundable age-based tax credits would create what is essentially a new federal entitlement program.

Hice through a spokeswoman said he wants to review the exact text of the new compromise before he makes any final decisions:

“While I have some concerns with this bill in its current form – chief among them being its impact on older Americans and continued federal government interference – I remain hopeful that we can advance a practical, market-driven health care plan that will reduce costs for American families. This revised health care proposal stemming from deliberative negotiations, including the manager’s amendment, will come to the House Floor this week, but my goal remains the same: Putting patients back in the driver’s seat and offering greater choice and competition for all Americans." 

Republicans are under immense pressure to back the party's repeal-and-replace effort. Trump, Speaker Paul Ryan and many others staked significant political capital on campaign promises to scrap the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a GOP alternative.

Backed by outside groups such as Heritage Action, FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth, conservative nay-says argue they won't accept just any replacement.

Party leaders can only afford to lose about 20 Republican votes on Thursday evening, when the House is expected to take its first crack at the bill, for it to pass in the face of united opposition from Democrats.

Georgia's eight other House Republicans appear to be on board as their former colleague, health secretary Tom Price, takes the lead as one of the plan's top salesmen.

The state's GOP congressmen tend to vote together on major legislation, but Hice, the syndicated radio talk show host who replaced Paul Broun in Georgia's deeply conservative 10th District in 2015, has broken away on a few notable occasions.

He voted against a government spending compromise in December 2015, even when most of the delegation banded together in order to secure a water wars win. And Hice initially didn't support Ryan's bid for the speakership in late 2015. (He eventually backed the Wisconsinite.)

A bit of trivia: If Hice ends up voting against his own party's health care bill, he wouldn't be the first 10th District Republican to do so. Charlie Norwood was one of 19 GOP lawmakers to reject then-President George W. Bush's Medicare Part D plan in 2003. His vote seemingly did not have much of an impact at the ballot box -- he went on to win reelection twice before his death in 2007.

Read more:

Tom Price in the spotlight as point man for GOP health plan

Loudermilk gets on board with GOP health bill after Trump meeting

Ga. Republicans in damage control mode on health care

Trump voters in South Georgia come to terms with GOP health plan

Republican health plan advances amid questions on impact, cost

Why Georgia Republicans are nervous about House health plan

GOP health plan could mean less help for Georgians to buy insurance

Obamacare elimination could gut Georgia health fund

A county-by-county look at what the GOP’s health plan would mean for Ga

David Scott: Rip up GOP health plan, let bipartisan panel start over

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.