U.S. Republican leaders abruptly pulled their troubled health care overhaul bill off the House floor Friday afternoon, short of votes and eager to avoid a humiliating defeat for President Donald Trump and GOP leaders.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said at a press conference that he asked Trump to pull the bill and Trump agreed.
The bill had appeared all but certain to be defeated Friday. The roll call was on track to occur in about an hour.
The measure has been a top GOP priority and was the party’s first major legislative effort since it took control of both the White House and Congress in January.
The legislation would repeal much of former President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law, including its requirement that people buy policies.
Earlier Friday, Trump had demanded a make-or-break vote on health care legislation in the House, threatening to leave “Obamacare” in place and move on to other issues if Friday’s vote fails.
Trump also told lawmakers who oppose abortion that a vote against the health care bill would favor Planned Parenthood.
The president tweeted Friday “the irony is that the Freedom Caucus, which is very pro-life and against Planned Parenthood, allows P.P. to continue if they stop this plan!”
In a bid to coax support from conservatives, House leaders proposed a fresh amendment repealing Obama’s requirement that insurers cover 10 specified services including maternity and mental health care.
Conservatives have demanded the removal of those and other conditions the law imposes on insurers, arguing they drive up premiums.
The president met with members of the Freedom Caucus Thursday in an effort to win them over. But the vote was postponed after administration officials fell short.
Trump told GOP lawmakers Thursday night that he had had enough and was ready to vote and move on, whatever the result, Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney told lawmakers.
“‘Negotiations are over, we’d like to vote tomorrow and let’s get this done for the American people.’ That was it,” Rep. Duncan Hunter of California said as he left the meeting, summarizing Mulvaney’s message to lawmakers.
“Let’s vote,” White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said as he walked out.
After seven horrible years of ObamaCare (skyrocketing premiums & deductibles, bad healthcare), this is finally your chance for a great plan!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 24, 2017
The outcome of Friday’s vote was impossible to predict. Both conservative and moderate lawmakers had claimed the bill lacked votes after a long day of talks. But the White House appeared ready to gamble that the prospect of failing to repeal former President Barack Obama’s health law, after seven years of promising to do exactly that, would force lawmakers into the “yes” column.
“It’s done tomorrow. Or ‘Obamacare’ stays,” said Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., a top Trump ally in the House said Thursday.
Asked whether Republicans would be unified on Friday’s vote, freshman Rep Matt Gaetz of Florida said, “I sure hope so, or we’ll have the opportunity to watch a unified Democratic caucus impeach Donald Trump in two years when we lose the majority.”
One announcement after Thursday’s meeting moved things the wrong way for Trump. Freshman Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., stated he would oppose the bill, saying, “I cannot support anything less than a clean repeal of Obamacare.”
Thursday’s maneuvers added up to high drama on Capitol Hill, but Friday promised even more suspense with the prospect of leadership putting a major bill on the floor uncertain about whether it would pass or fail.
The Republican legislation would halt Obama’s tax penalties against people who don’t buy coverage and cut the federal-state Medicaid program for low earners, which the Obama statute had expanded. It would provide tax credits to help people pay medical bills, though generally skimpier than Obama’s statute provides. It also would allow insurers to charge older Americans more and repeal tax boosts the law imposed on high-income people and health industry companies.
The measure would also block federal payments to Planned Parenthood for a year, another stumbling block for GOP moderates.
In a concession to the conservative House Freedom Caucus, many of whose members have withheld support, the legislation would repeal requirements for insurers to cover “essential health benefits” such as maternity care and substance abuse treatment.
The drama unfolded seven years to the day after Obama signed his landmark law, an anniversary GOP leaders meant to celebrate with a vote to undo the divisive legislation. “Obamacare” gave birth to the tea party movement and helped Republicans win and keep control of Congress and then take the White House.
In a danger sign for Republicans, a Quinnipiac University poll found that people disapprove of the GOP legislation by 56 percent to 17 percent, with 26 percent undecided. Trump’s handling of health care was viewed unfavorably by 6 in 10.
Obama declared in a statement that “America is stronger” because of the current law and said Democrats must make sure “any changes will make our health care system better, not worse for hardworking Americans.” Trump tweeted to supporters, “Go with our plan! Call your Rep & let them know.”
Unlike Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., when they passed Obamacare, the Republicans had failed to build an outside constituency or coalition to support their bill. Instead, medical professionals, doctors and hospitals — major employers in some districts — as well as the AARP and other influential consumer groups were nearly unanimously opposed. So were outside conservative groups who argued the bill didn’t go far enough. The Chamber of Commerce was in favor.
Moderates were given pause by projections of 24 million Americans losing coverage in a decade and higher out-of-pocket costs for many low-income and older people, as predicted by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. In an updated analysis Thursday, the CBO said late changes to the bill meant to win over reluctant lawmakers would cut beneficial deficit reduction in half, while failing to cover more people.
And, House members were mindful that the bill, even if passed by the House, faces a tough climb in the Senate.
Story by the Associated Press