Pence, Republicans push to revive health care bill

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Republicans led by Vice President Mike Pence pushed to revive a moribund health-care bill on Tuesday, planning meetings into the night with key lawmakers eager to build new GOP consensus to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Pence spent much of Tuesday on Capitol Hill meeting with key groups of lawmakers, as well as with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., a day after visiting separately with conservative hard-liners and moderates to gauge the potential for a revamped version of legislation that collapsed last month.

The crux of the new proposal would be to allow states to seek exemptions from certain mandates established under the Affordable Care Act – including a requirement that insurers cover 10 “essential health benefits” as well as a prohibition on charging those with pre-existing medical conditions more than the healthy.

While the largely behind-the-scenes effort generated optimistic talk, no clear path has emerged toward House passage of the Republican bill. On Tuesday evening, key players said they were still waiting to see new proposals in writing, and some lawmakers said they were wary of rushing the process.

“There is a value sometimes to the vetting process,” said Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., a member of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, a group targeted by President Trump last week for its opposition to the bill. “That having been said, we’ll see what comes our way.”

Pence was scheduled to attend a meeting late Tuesday in the Capitol with leaders of key House GOP factions, including the Freedom Caucus. Ryan and other House leaders were not expected to participate, and it was unclear late in the day whether the legislative text of the proposals would be available for the various parties to review.

Pence, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and budget director Mick Mulvaney began the two-day push to revive the repeal effort late Monday, with a trip to Capitol Hill to attend a Freedom Caucus meeting. Meadows said they offered a “solid idea” in that meeting to build a potential compromise around.

But both Freedom Caucus members and moderates emerged from a Tuesday morning House GOP conference lacking clarity on the path forward.

“Right now there are really just discussions, there’s no deal in the works, there’s been no deal on anything,” said Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., a Freedom Caucus member.

Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., a House leadership ally, said he didn’t get the sense that a compromise was near.

“I didn’t get any vibe this morning of ‘hold the phone, we may be close to a deal here,’ ” he said. “There’s no white smoke coming out of any leadership office that I’m seeing,”

Meadows said late Monday that he expected that the proposal would be drafted into legislative text within 24 hours, but it remained unclear late Tuesday whether that effort was underway absent a broader accord on the underlying principles.

While addressing reporters, Spicer was asked if a deal that rolled back protections for pre-existing conditions would violate a campaign pledge by Trump. “We’re not there yet,” he said. “We’re having discussions.”

Two other moderate House members also said they remained opposed: Rep. Frank LoBiando, R-N.J., tweeted that he had “seen nothing in terms of reported possible changes to American Health Care Act warranting reconsideration.” And Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J., said changes to community rating would undermine protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

On the flip side, it was unclear just how many Freedom Caucus members could be swayed with the softened provision to give states the option of requesting exemptions to some of the ACA’s mandates.

“I don’t think that a long-term solution consists of allowing states to ask the federal government for waivers, because presidents change,” said Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala. “States ought to have as a matter of right the ability to determine what insurance policies for their citizens should contain.”

A health-care industry official argued that the proposed changes to the bill appear to leave in place most of the core problems with the original bill and exacerbate others by making changes that would effectively make insurance either too expensive or too skimpy for sick people.

“To put it simply, this is making a bad bill worse,” said the industry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak frankly. The official added that his industry is waiting to see the details of the revised bill before weighing in publicly: “You don’t want to rain on a parade until you know its headed into town.”

As part of his push to revive the bill, Pence also arranged on short notice a meeting and phone call Tuesday with some leading conservative activists who have been skeptical of the health-care proposals floated so far.

The group included Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List; Jim DeMint, president of the Heritage Foundation; Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform; Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity; and Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union.

The flurry of activity Monday and Tuesday raised some hopes that the closely watched legislation could be revived and passed through the House quickly. But with lawmakers ready to leave town Thursday for a two-week Easter recess, others questioned the rush.

“A lot of people would love to get this done this week – kind of unrealistic given all the changes that are being discussed,” said Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo), a Freedom Caucus member who supported the original version of the AHCA. “Some people want to come back next week – kind of unrealistic given all of the plans everybody has in their district for next week. And then the most realistic thing, I think, is to try and get something done when we get back.”

Ryan has taken a less direct role in the renewed negotiations, aides involved in the discussions say, out of a desire to let the various GOP factions work matters out on their own timetable rather than forcing a deal that could backfire.

Trump took aim at the Freedom Caucus in tweets Thursday, pledging to “fight them” at the polls in the 2018 midterms. He remained active on Twitter over the weekend, suggesting that the situation was still fluid – and that he is looking at ways to move forward with the help of either moderate Democrats or conservative Republicans.

The president also played a round of golf Sunday with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., the libertarian-oriented former presidential candidate who has been a sharp critic of the House bill and praised its failure less than two weeks before.

The Washington Post’s Paige Winfield Cunningham, Carolyn Y. Johnson, Sean Sullivan, Ashley Parker and Abby Phillip contributed to this report.

 

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Pence, Republicans push to revive health care bill

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