VOL. 41 | NO. 13 | Friday, March 31, 2017
White House talks progress on reviving long-shot health bill
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House on Wednesday talked up progress with Republicans on resuscitating the GOP health care bill, but offered no timeline on rewriting a measure that could win House approval.
Trump administration officials and leading legislators said they planned to resume their hunt for common ground between conservatives and moderates. A late Tuesday meeting at the Capitol involving Vice President Mike Pence and about two dozen lawmakers produced no agreement over a White House proposal to let states seek federal waivers to drop coverage mandates that President Barack Obama's health care law slapped on the insurance industry.
"Last night, when we had members of the Freedom Caucus, the Tuesday group and the RSC (Republican Study Committee) in the same room talking through the same issues, we feel like that is progress," Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, told reporters.
Short said he couldn't provide a "timetable as to when we think that will happen." Congress leaves town in days for a two-week recess, during which lawmakers could face antagonistic grilling from voters at town hall meetings and the entire GOP drive might lose momentum.
Under the White House proposal, states could apply for a federal waiver from a provision in Obama's law that obliges insurers to cover "essential health benefits," including mental health, maternity and substance abuse services. The current version of the GOP legislation would erase that coverage requirement but let states reimpose it themselves, an idea that is opposed by many of the party's moderates.
In addition, the White House would let states seek an exemption to the law's provision banning insurers from charging higher premiums for seriously ill people. Conservatives have argued that such restrictions inflate consumer costs, but supporters say it makes coverage accessible for those with costly medical conditions.
"The tide seems to have subsided a bit," said Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., a member of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus. Many of its roughly three dozen conservative members have opposed the Republican health care legislation for not doing enough to annul Obama's 2010 law.
Sanford did not attend the Tuesday night meeting but said, "There was not concurrence on where the left and the right in the conference are on the bill."
Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., said she is encouraged because "I think two sides talking to one another gives me optimism." Black chairs the House Budget Committee and was at Tuesday's meeting.
With no bill on the immediate horizon, one conservative organization lashed out at moderate Republicans.
"The left wing among House Republicans doesn't want to compromise or keep their pledge to voters to repeal Obamacare," Club for Growth president David McIntosh said in a statement. "They've rejected deals that would give Americans more choices for cheaper health insurance, and now they won't even allow states the chance to scale back Obamacare's costliest regulations."
The White House offer got an uneven reception Tuesday from GOP moderates and conservatives, leaving prospects shaky that the party could salvage one of its leading priorities in Congress. There was no evidence that the proposal won over any of the GOP opponents who humiliated President Donald Trump and House leaders on March 24, forcing them to cancel a planned vote on a Republican health care bill that was destined to lose.
"We want to make sure that when we go, we have the votes to pass this bill," House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters. He said talks were in "the conceptual stage."
Some members of the Freedom Caucus were showing signs of accepting less than what many originally wanted. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the caucus leader, said talks were boiling down to curbing several of the current law's coverage requirements — a sharp contrast to the full repeal of the statute that many initially demanded.
"It perhaps is as much of a repeal as we can get done," Meadows told reporters.
A poll by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation flashed a warning for the White House, showing that 3 in 4 Americans want the Trump administration to make Obama's law work.
About 2 in 3 said they were glad the House GOP bill didn't pass last month. But people split evenly between wanting to keep or repeal the statute.
The underlying House Republican bill would repeal much of the 2010 law. It would erase its tax fines for consumers who don't buy policies, federal aid to help many afford coverage and Medicaid expansion for additional poor people.
Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey, Kevin Freking and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.