Short of support, House won't vote on health bill this week
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House won't vote on Republican legislation scuttling much of President Barack Obama's health care law until at least next week, a GOP leader said Thursday. The decision deals a setback to the White House, which has pressured congressional Republicans to pass the bill by Saturday - President Donald Trump's 100th day in office.
"As soon as we have the votes, we'll vote on it," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters late Thursday after leaving a meeting of the House GOP leadership that lasted nearly two hours. He said the vote would not occur Friday or Saturday.
White House and Republican leaders had labored all day to wring votes out of resistant moderate GOP lawmakers for the health care measure. But they remained shy of the support they'd need to fully rouse the measure back to life, and it was uncertain when the vote would occur.
Centrist Republicans were the primary target of the lobbying, a day after the conservative House Freedom Caucus announced its support for a revised version of the legislation. The fresh backing from that group exhumed the bill from the legislative graveyard, but leaders need moderates who've resisted the effort to jump aboard.
While the White House was eager for a vote this week, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., wants to avoid an encore of last month's embarrassment on the bill. He had to abruptly cancel a vote on an initial version of the bill because of opposition from moderates and conservatives alike.
Ryan told reporters that leaders were making progress but added, "We're going to go when we have the votes." He noted that he had spoken earlier this year about a 200-day legislative plan because of the complexity of revamping the nation's health system, its tax code and border security.
In at least one instance, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence spoke to one recalcitrant conservative who is now a yes vote. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., said he'd already decided to switch to backing the revamped bill on Wednesday before he got two phone calls from Pence, who on the second call handed the phone to Trump.
"Donald Trump expressed his appreciation for the position I was taking," Brooks said Thursday. "That gives you a good feeling inside about what you're doing."
The recast bill would let states escape a requirement under former President Barack Obama's health care law that insurers charge healthy and seriously ill customers the same rates. They could also be exempted from Obama's mandate that insurers cover a list of services like maternity care, and from its bar against charging older customers more than triple their rates for younger ones.
Overall, the legislation would cut the Medicaid program for the poor, eliminate Obama's fines for people who don't buy insurance and provide generally skimpier subsidies.
Democrats remained solidly against the legislation, which they said would make health care coverage less available and costlier. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters that for Republicans, voting for the bill "is going to be doo-doo stuck to their shoe for a long time."
Conservatives embraced the revisions as a way to lower people's health care expenses. Moderates saw them as diminishing coverage because insurers could make policies for their most ill - and expensive - customers too costly for them to afford.
"No bill is going to solve every issue," said Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., who crafted the newest edition of the legislation with Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who heads the hard-line Freedom Caucus. MacArthur is a leader of the roughly 50-member moderate House Tuesday Group, but it is unclear that he has won over many of their votes and he conceded that some lawmakers "are struggling to get to yes."
Two moderate Pennsylvania Republicans affirmed Thursday they would vote no - Reps. Patrick Meehan, who'd been publicly undeclared, and Ryan Costello, who'd said he'd have opposed the original bill.
Both cited fears that the new bill would leave people with serious illnesses unprotected. Meehan said he was called recently by Pence and lobbied "by everyone in leadership."
The American Medical Association said it opposed the newly reshaped bill, as it did the original legislation. The doctors' group said letting insurers boost premiums on people with pre-existing conditions "will likely lead to patients losing their coverage."
Some lawmakers and GOP aides suggested leaders were less than 10 away from the 216 votes Republicans will need to prevail.
Associated Press writers Kevin Freking and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.