A White House pitch has produced little evidence of movement toward a deal.
President Donald Trump’s attempt to resurrect his failed Obamacare repeal plan is already facing long odds on Capitol Hill.
A renewed bid by the White House to unite fractious Republicans around the bill — left for dead a week ago — briefly raised expectations that a deal was imminent. But by Tuesday afternoon, leaders of the polarized factions of the House GOP were no closer to agreement than they were when talks collapsed last month and delivered an embarrassing blow to Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan.
White House officials privately said they don’t expect a deal anytime soon on health care. That’s despite direct entreaties from some of the White House’s heaviest hitters — Vice President Mike Pence, chief of staff Reince Priebus and budget director Mick Mulvaney — who are darting between the Capitol and the West Wing to meet with conservatives and centrists to test the chances for reviving the so-called American Health Care Act.
Trump has been working the phones too, though he’s largely delegated outreach to his senior staff. Pence and chief strategist Steve Bannon have also had separate talks with conservatives, including leaders of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio.).
The conversations come days after Trump attacked both lawmakers by name on Twitter, arguing the Freedom Caucus has blocked his agenda from advancing. Privately, however, they White House is trying to win them over.
Indeed, White House officials and some senior Republican insiders said they were encouraged that all factions of the 237-member House GOP conference, including conservative hard-liners, were once again in talks.
While new concessions haven’t publicly converted any Freedom Caucus opponents of the GOP bill into supporters, conservatives say they’re interested in learning more — and Meadows called the proposal “solid” Monday evening. Most of the group says it will reserve judgment until they see legislative text, which could take days to emerge. Some, however, are signaling they’re still opposed to the legislation.
“There have been no changes from no to yes because we haven’t seen the text,” Meadows said. “And so at this point there’s… only a willingness and an openness to look.”
GOP leaders, meanwhile, are keeping their eyes on moderate critics of the original legislation, including many who appeared cool to the negotiations. Some remained concerned leadership will lose the support of additional centrist Republicans because of the changes offered to the far-right.
“I have seen nothing in terms of reported possible changes to American Health Care Act warranting reconsideration. I remain a NO,” tweeted Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), a member of the moderate Tuesday Group.
Rep. Leonard Lance, a New Jersey Republican who previously opposed the legislation, also confirmed that he would still vote “no.”
Even if Republicans were to reach an agreement on policy changes, it could take days for House leaders to draft legislative language, conduct a thorough whip count of their members and tee up the bill for passage. And bringing a bill to the floor quickly would likely mean sidestepping an updated analysis of the proposal’s budgetary impact.
That means Trump is likely to go without a significant legislative victory as Congress heads into a two-week recess and he nears the 100-day mark of his presidency.
A senior administration official emphasized that inside the White House, expectations aren’t high for a deal before the Easter recess. This person said many White House officials are disappointed with Ryan’s outreach to Republicans during the last go-around, adding, the “White House is taking the lead this time.” Ryan aides haven’t been made aware of every conversation the White House is having on the bill, two people familiar with the discussions say.
Another White House official said “everyone is cautious” given the last debacle, and that no bill has been written. But this person said the administration has been heartened that a number of the conservative groups — like Heritage Foundation and Americans for Prosperity — have returned to the table for discussions, and some of the conservative members seem more “willing to at least have real talks.”
Ryan emphasized to reporters Tuesday that the renewed health care talks are only in the “conceptual” stage.
Among the changes intended to woo conservatives is a proposal to let states seek a federal waiver from key Obamacare regulations they say are driving up health insurance premiums.
One option being considered, for instance, would allow governors to opt out of Obamacare’s “community rating” provision, a protection that prohibits insurers from charging sick people higher premiums. That measure would be coupled with an increase in dedicated funding to bring down premiums for the sick.
It’s unclear if that will win over the Freedom Caucus. Some caucus members seem skeptical, saying only that they need to see details of the proposal before deciding whether it improves the bill. Others were downright critical.
“I don’t know of a single Republican that got elected promising to be generous with waivers from our all-powerful position,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), who said the proposal would still fall short of a full repeal of Obamacare. “I want to get to where we promised.”
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), who’s also had separate conversations with the administration, said federal waivers would be susceptible to changes by future presidential administrations. The changes, he said, “may be sufficient to persuade some people to accept an otherwise bad piece of legislation but in and of itself is insufficient to persuade me.”
“States ought to have as a matter of right the ability to determine what insurance policies for their citizens should contain,” he said.
Other Freedom Caucus members, including Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), a solid Trump backer, said they were intrigued by the new White House pitch and wanted to learn more. GOP leaders, however, would likely need most of the group to back the bill to counter moderates that fell off as they moved the bill further to the right. It’s far from certain that the changes will do so.
Even if the White House locks in conservatives, it’s likely they’ll have to do clean up with centrists over the potential changes. Moderate Republicans are worried that the proposed revisions would seriously weaken protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Though Obamacare’s formal guidelines for that group would be preserved, nixing community rating in some states could effectively price many sick people out of coverage.
Throughout Tuesday morning, lawmakers steadily downplayed the urgency behind acting on the White House’s renewed health care push. Though Trump ally Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) said the president wants a bill through the House by the end of the week, most others stressed that timetable was far-fetched.
“I don’t know that we should be putting an arbitrary timeline on it because that’s the kind of thing that gets you in trouble,” said Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), one of the few Freedom Caucus members to publicly support the AHCA.
Source : Politico