WASHINGTON Top White House deputies returned to the Capitol on Tuesday evening to meet Republican lawmakers and discuss a second attempt at replacing Obamacare.
Vice President Mike Pence and other key aides were meeting with members of the moderate “Tuesday Group,” the conservative Republican Study Committee and the House Freedom Caucus, the rebel group of conservative lawmakers that derailed the first administration-backed healthcare bill last month.
The purpose of the meeting was to hash out differences between Republican factions over a healthcare proposal as the White House aims for a quick vote on the legislation before Congress leaves Washington for a two-week recess scheduled to begin on Friday.
The Republican failure last month to dismantle Obamacare, also known as the 2010 Affordable Care Act, was President Donald Trump’s first major legislative setback and it raised questions over how he will manage to achieve other major legislative goals.
Although Trump initially said he would move on to fulfilling other campaign promises such as a tax overhaul and infrastructure-spending package, a new attempt at reviving the failed healthcare push took off on Monday when White House officials and Republican lawmakers held meetings to discuss revising the bill. [nL2N1HC00C
A source familiar with internal House Republican deliberations said that healthcare, not taxes, now topped the House agenda and that the healthcare effort was being driven by the White House.
Republican lawmakers said the new push on healthcare would maintain Obamacare’s essential health benefits clause listing services and care that insurers must cover. But in a move to attract hard-line conservatives, states could apply for a waiver if they show it would improve coverage and reduce costs.
In remarks to reporters after a closed meeting with fellow Republicans on Tuesday morning, House Speaker Paul Ryan said the renewed healthcare effort was simply in the “conceptual stage right now,” dampening hopes for a quick vote on the proposal.
He refused to give a time line for having a bill on the House floor.
“We don’t have a bill text or an agreement yet but this is the kind of conversations we want,” Ryan said.
Talk of a revived plan hurt shares of hospitals and insurers that have benefited from Obamacare’s expansion of the Medicaid program for the poor, extending insurance to millions of people and helped cut hospital debt.
A mix of hard-line conservatives and more moderate Republicans sank last month’s drive to pass the Obamacare repeal and replacement. The House leadership withdrew the bill when it became clear there were not enough votes to pass it.
Some House Freedom Caucus members, representing the most conservative Republicans in Congress, already were criticizing the revamped healthcare outline.
“It is inadequate to cause me to shift from ‘no’ to ‘yes,’” said Representative Mo Brooks, a Freedom Caucus member. “I have not seen anything in the latest White House offer that suggests to me that a skyrocketing health insurance cost would be better constrained.”
Rand Paul, a Republican senator playing a major role in the attempt to revive the healthcare bill, said on Tuesday the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers were still at an impasse.
The latest proposals would mean that Trump is reneging on a promise to uphold one of the law’s most popular provisions: that insurers cannot discriminate against those with pre-existing conditions. By allowing states to opt out of the so-called community rating, insurers could charge sicker people much more.
“If they try once again to give power back to the insurance companies, increase costs, and undermine care for people with pre-existing conditions, they’ll get the exact same result: a bill that would be devastating for patients and families … and one that has absolutely no path to becoming law,” said Senator Patty Murray, the senior Democrat on a Senate committee that oversees healthcare.
(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Doina Chiacu; Writing by Amanda Becker and Alistair Bell; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bill Trott)