Washington (AFP) – US Republicans on Friday prepared to re-introduce legislation repealing Obamacare, potentially setting up a showdown vote next week as the White House seeks a major accomplishment before Donald Trump’s 100th day as president.
After an embarrassing health care defeat last month, Trump has suddenly heaped pressure on congressional Republican leadership by saying he expects a vote on a revived version of the bill “next week or shortly thereafter.”
“We’re doing very well on health care. We’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters Thursday. “It’s evolving.”
Conservative and moderate Republicans were working with the White House on the outlines of a deal. But with no legislative text to shop to lawmakers, it remained unclear whether such a plan would receive majority backing in the House of Representatives, which returns to work Tuesday after a two-week recess.
Should leaders unveil the plan and schedule a vote for next week, it would mark a sharp change in legislative expectations in Washington, where the White House and lawmakers are up against a hard deadline of funding federal operations by next Friday at midnight, or face a government shutdown.
Trump voiced optimism when asked whether he would seek to prioritize a vote on health care or a government funding bill next week. “I want to get both,” he replied.
In the days following the collapse of Trump’s initial attempt to dismantle Barack Obama’s health care reforms, he signalled his intention to turn next to tax reform.
But the White House now appears keen to take a stab at swiftly passing an Obamacare repeal bill — something candidate Trump had repeatedly pledged to do within his first 100 days as president.
– Controversial new draft –
For years, Republicans have promised to overturn Obama’s reform, describing it as government overreach. Last month’s bill, championed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, was slammed by conservatives as “Obamacare Light,” as it would only reduce, not eliminate, health coverage subsidies by replacing them with refundable tax credits.
Several conservatives wanted to see the bill lift burdensome and costly regulations that require insurance companies to keep a standard, minimum package of benefits — such as maternity care, hospitalization, and mental health services.
The new draft, a copy of which was posted online by Politico, controversially would allow states to opt out of including the benefits. They could also opt out of the so-called community rating provision, which requires insurers to charge the same for people regardless of their health status.
The revision is aimed at drawing enough support from both moderates and core conservatives in the Republican Party.
It was reportedly drawn up by Tom MacArthur, co-chair of the Tuesday Group of moderate Republicans, with input from Mark Meadows, leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus which spearheaded opposition to the party’s initial bill.
Some Republicans expressed skepticism Friday, including Congressman Rodney Davis, a Tuesday Group member who said he has had discussions with the White House on how to proceed.
“I think we’re still negotiating,” Davis told CNN. But “I’m not going to be for a plan that’s going to allow for preexisting conditions to not be covered.”
– ‘Get it done right’ –
Any deal would have to play the tricky game of winning over both conservatives and moderates in the Republican Party, seeing that Democrats will almost certainly unite against the plan.
It would also need the support of nearly every Republican in the Senate to become law.
“Republicans should not waste their time on further health care outrages when the clock is ticking to fund the government,” Steny Hoyer, the number two House Democrat, said in a statement.
Despite stressing that Trump wanted to move quickly, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the focus was to “get it done right,” and not within the 100-day mark, which falls on April 29.
“If we can get it done next week, great. If we get it done the week after, great,” Spicer said.
Meanwhile, Congress has five working days until government funding expires. Complicating that timetable, the administration has indicated its desire to include several controversial elements in the spending measure.
“We’ve made it very clear that we want border wall funding, we want greater latitude to deny federal grants to sanctuary cities, we want hiring of immigration agents, and we want $30 billion to infuse the military budget,” Spicer said.
Democrats have warned that such “poison pills” would make the spending bill, which will require some Democratic support in the Senate, a non-starter.