WASHINGTON – Minnesota Republicans in Congress vowed Wednesday that the House GOP plan to repeal much of the Affordable Care Act, already under criticism even from some conservative groups, would expand access to health care while lowering costs.

"We're absolutely excited to try and help Minnesotans get access to the best health care in the world by reducing premiums and improving options when it comes to health insurance," said U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, a Republican. President Donald Trump has also been trying to build support for the House legislation.

Democrats have been quick to bash the new plan with warnings that, contrary to GOP promises, millions of people would lose health care. But it's not just Democrats piling on: Conservative groups like the Club for Growth and House Freedom Caucus have joined the opposition, calling the proposal simply a watered-down version of the health care overhaul that President Barack Obama signed in 2010.

Opposition from Republicans also surfaced Wednesday in St. Paul. Seven GOP state senators on Wednesday wrote to Emmer and Minnesota's two other Republican members of Congress, Reps. Erik Paulsen and Jason Lewis, warning that drastic cuts to Medicaid in the House proposal would decimate Minnesota's health and human services budget.

"Please remind our good leaders in Washington that simply cutting the budget is not going to take away our responsibilities to the aged, those with disabilities and mental health needs, children and the poor," the senators wrote. The letter was signed by Republican state Sens. Jim Abeler, Julie Rosen, Michele Benson, Paul Utke, Scott Jensen, Carla Nelson and Jerry Relph.

Democrats said millions would lose their health care if the measure becomes law. Rep. Keith Ellison, now deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said it would be "devastating" to working people.

"The reason they've always hated it is because it puts taxes on rich people which if they repeal it will be gone and rich people will get more money," Ellison said. "The fact that this will subject people to bankruptcy and undermine Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid doesn't seem to be a serious consideration of the Republican Party, but it is our concern."

Paulsen spent much of Wednesday in a House Ways and Means Committee hearing, where amendments to the bill were considered.

"After ... countless stories of patients facing skyrocketing premiums, losing their health care plan, and not being able to see their doctor, we are replacing Obamacare with a plan that will lower costs and give patients immediate relief," said Paulsen in a statement. "I am glad to see two initiatives that I helped lead — the repeal of the harmful medical device tax as well as the enhancement and expansion of health savings accounts — included in these reforms, because they will help American families have access to high-quality health care."

On Twitter this week, Paulsen praised the preservation of coverage for people with preexisting conditions and 26-year-olds' ability to stay on their parents' plans — two of the most popular provisions of the 2010 law.

"We've introduced the American Health Care Act to lower costs and empower individuals," he wrote.

Lewis, who joined Congress in January, said he was still looking through the bill but is inclined to support it. He made the repeal of the Affordable Care Act a central campaign promise last year.

"You can't let the perfect become the enemy of the good," Lewis said. "We're in a situation here where we've got to do what we said we would do in the campaign."

He said the Republican plan was "shifting the tax code to stop discriminating in favor of only employer-based health care."

He added: "Everybody's got their idea of what they want. To perfectly have every 'i' dotted and every 't' crossed, you're not going to get that in Washington. You've got to move the ball toward the goal line of more freedom … lower premiums and more access, and I think that's by and large what the bill does."

Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar said that while she was open to reforms in the Affordable Care Act, she's disturbed that the Republican proposal would reduce the Medicare trust fund. She said she's already spoken with Republican colleagues in the Senate with major concerns about the bill, and she predicted the bill would have a much tougher time getting through the Senate.

Democratic Sen. Al Franken criticized the plan for giving tax breaks for the wealthy and cutting funding for programs like Medicaid, which pays for many of Minnesota's nursing home patients.

"I think it's pretty awful," Franken said.

Maya Rao • 612-673-4210

Staff writers Glenn Howatt and Allison Sherry contributed to this report.