The House Ways and Means Committee’s 23-16 passage of the American Health Care Act gave Speaker Paul Ryan (R.-Wis.) a huge victory shortly before 5 a.m. Thursday, closing out more than 15 hours of testimony, amendment votes, and remarks by members of the committee.
“Ways and Means Republicans just passed legislation that will help Americans finally have access to affordable health care,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (R.-Texas), the committee chairman and Ryan’s immediate successor leading the powerful panel.
“We voted repeatedly to end Obamacare’s crushing taxes and mandates and ensure patients have more power over their own health care,” he said.
“This legislation reflects President Trump’s strong commitment to improving health care for all Americans,” Brady said. “I sincerely thank my colleagues for their hard work and commitment to delivering on the President’s promise.”
The senior Democrat on the committee, Massachusetts Rep. Richard Neal, said in his opening remarks that he was upset about the lack of transparency in the process and the lack of time given to members to read the bill and prepare the committee’s vote.
The bottom line, though is that the American Health Care Act does not improve the situation for regular Americans, he said.
“If Republicans take away critical coverage benefits in the ACA coupled with hurting the middle-class, it would drastically increase costs and lower coverage and quality care,” he added.
“As the Republicans have heard loud and clear during town halls, people are afraid of losing their health insurance,” Neal said. “It would be irresponsible for Republicans to take away health care programs on which their constituents across a broad age and economic spectrum depend.”
Committee Democrats delayed the vote as long as they parliamentarily could.
Democrats used all of their allotted time for questions and remarks–often going over. They also offered dozens of amendments that were ruled out of order by the chairman.
Brady worked out a tandem with Rep. Pat Tiberi (R.-Ohio) to handle the amendments. First, Brady would rule the amendment non-germane to the bill. Then, when the Democrat would object to the ruling, Tiberi, chairman of the Subcommittee on Health, would move to table the objection, but often with a story relating to an American suffering from Obamacare.
New York Democrat Rep. Joseph Crowley took a large poster of an amendment Brady offered during the 2010 Obamacare debate that would have required all members of Congress to certify that they had read the PPACA. Crowley took out a red marker and crossed out Brady’s name and wrote above it his own.
“We haven’t had a single hearing on this bill,” Crowley said.
“It comes after the Republicans kept a draft of the bill under armed guard protection, sending their own members in search of the Capitol in vain looking for the bill,” he said. “Americans should not have to play a game of hide-and-seek to find out the fate of their health care coverage.”
Democrats voted down Brady’s measure in 2010. In 2017, Brady simply ruled it out of order.
Tiberi acknowledged the rich irony of the situation.
“Oh, it’s pretty rich,” Crowley replied. “So is this bill, by the way.”
Tiberi also recalled out loud that despite Crowley’s assertion that members had 30 days to read the Obamacare draft before the Ways and Means vote, Democrats dropped a 794-page amendment at 11:57 p.m., the night before the 9:00 a.m. committee vote.
New Jersey Democrat Rep. Bill Pascrell offered several amendments, including one that would have required President Donald Trump to release his tax returns.
When the American Health Care Act passed the Ways and Means Committee, it moved the bill to the House Budget Committee as a recommendation. Similarly, the Energy and Commerce Committee’s approval of the same bill with the same language goes on to the Budget Committee. If the bill is reported out of the Budget Committee, it must pass the House Rules Committee with a “rule” that lays out how the members will debate the bill on the House floor.
On the House floor, the House will be converted into the Committee of the Whole House, with Rep. Diane Black (R.-Tenn.), the chairwoman of the Budget Committee, acting as the floor manager for the Republican majority and Rep. John Yarmuth (D.-Ky.), the ranking Democrat, running the floor for his party. In the Committee of the Whole House, all members are considered members of the Budget Committee and there will be opportunity for amendments and other motions, depending on the rule from the Rules Committee.