House GOP leaders defend health-care overhaul as they prepare to meet President Trump

Friday , March 10, 2017 - 9:15 AM

Sean Sullivan, Kelsey Snell and Mike DeBonis

(c) 2017, The Washington Post.

WASHINGTON - House Republican leaders Friday defended their effort to pass a sweeping overhaul of the Affordable Care Act, as they prepared to meet President Donald Trump at the White House amid mounting criticism from conservatives urging them to go further.

At a news conference on Capitol Hill, the House GOP lawmakers taking the lead on shepherding the bill through the lower chamber outlined their next steps in repealing and replacing key parts of the ACA. Their attempt has come under attack from both ends of the political spectrum.

“Some have said that this legislation doesn’t do enough,” said Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., who chairs the House Budget Committee. The panel is expected to work on the bill next week. She added: “It zeros out the mandate, it repeals the taxes, it repeals the subsidies, and it rolls back some of the regulations.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., argued that because of the power the minority party holds in the Senate, the American Health Care Act, as the GOP bill is known, is the most aggressive plan Republicans can spearhead right now. He said that it was just one of three phases in reshaping health-care laws that will also later involve Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price taking actions from the executive branch.

GOP leaders are scheduled to meet with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at the White House later Friday morning to discuss health care.

The meeting will come the day after the GOP proposal to revise the Affordable Care Act claimed its first major victories amid a backlash that both Republican leaders and Trump have been trying to tamp down.

Trump met with conservative critics of the plan, signaling a willingness to negotiate its details and indicating that it does not yet have enough votes to emerge from the House. More acknowledgment of the proposal’s problems came from Senate Republicans, who suggested Thursday that the measure is moving too quickly through the House and in a form unlikely to succeed if it gets to the upper chamber.

Yet the plan emerged from two key House committees Thursday, and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., its top booster, insisted that the pending legislation represents the “only chance we’re going to get” to fulfill the GOP’s long-standing promise to undo the Affordable Care Act.

The GOP proposal cleared the Ways and Means and the Energy and Commerce committees on party-line votes after marathon sessions that lasted through Wednesday night and into Thursday. It now heads to yet another panel, the Budget Committee, and it remains on track to land on the House floor by month’s end.

But the proposal faces challenges with both GOP conservatives and moderates, in addition to Democrats, many of whom questioned the lightning-fast process and raised dueling qualms about its policy provisions.

Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., appeared to echo a Democratic attack on the House legislation, saying lawmakers need to see the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimate of how the bill would affect the federal deficit and the number of insured Americans.

“I think we need to know that,” McConnell said at a breakfast sponsored by Politico, adding that the report could be released by Monday.

Trump and Ryan have adopted diverging approaches to critics of the overhaul. While Trump has endorsed the legislation, he has expressed a willingness in recent days to make deals with its critics. But Ryan has emphasized the precarious nature of the legislation House leaders have drafted, all but ruling out substantial changes to the bill before it comes up for a final vote.

At an unusual Thursday news conference carried live on cable news channels, a shirt-sleeved Ryan gave a 23-minute presentation. Republicans, he said, face a “binary choice” - vote for the House bill, or let the ACA survive.

“We as Republicans have been waiting seven years to do this,” Ryan said. “This is the closest we will ever get to repealing and replacing Obamacare. The time is here. The time is now. This is the moment.”

Hours later, leaders of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus visited the White House and made a personal case to Trump to modify the legislation - changes that Ryan and other House leaders believe would imperil it by alienating more moderate Republicans.

“I didn’t hear anything that said it’s a binary choice at the White House today,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the Freedom Caucus’s chairman.

It remains unclear when or how any tweaks to the measure would occur.

The swift pace at which House Republicans are moving the bill forward has drawn criticism from Democrats, who contrasted it with the lengthy deliberations that took place before passage of the Affordable Care Act. Some Republicans took up that criticism as well.

In a Thursday afternoon interview with The Washington Post, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., threw cold water on the House legislation, including the proposed tax credits to help people pay for insurance.

“The bill that was introduced Monday night cannot pass the Senate,” he said. “And I don’t think it will be brought to the Senate for a vote.”

Cotton said many of his colleagues hold similar views: “They might not have spoken publicly about it, but I can tell you a number if not a majority of Republican senators think that this process has been too breakneck, too slapdash, and they do not see a good solution for the American people coming out of the House bill as drafted.”


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