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News / Nation & World

Health bill short of votes, GOP leaders look to Trump

President says in interview that measure is ‘very preliminary,’ negotiations ahead to address issues

By ERICA WERNER and ALAN FRAM, Associated Press
Published: March 16, 2017, 8:33pm

WASHINGTON — Short of votes for their health care bill, Republican congressional leaders turned to President Donald Trump on Thursday to wrangle support for the divisive legislation they hope to push through Congress before Easter.

But Trump sounded more like he was at the start of a negotiation than ready to close the deal. And combined with opposition from Republicans of all stripes, the president’s flexible stance suggested final passage of the bill could be delayed, potentially exposing the legislation to the same kind of extended public backlash that undermined former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act from the start.

“It’s very preliminary,” the president said of the House GOP bill in a Fox News Channel interview Wednesday, when questioned about reports the legislation would help Democratic voters more than those who elected him. “A lot of things aren’t consistent. But these are going to be negotiated. … We will take care of our people or I’m not signing it, OK, just so you understand.”

The House Budget Committee narrowly voted Thursday to advance the troubled Republican health bill, with defections by three GOP conservatives underscoring the obstacles party leaders face in maneuvering to avoid a stinging setback to their showpiece legislation after seven years of promises to repeal and replace Obamacare.

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In a statement, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, said: “There are legitimate concerns about how this bill would impact children’s hospitals, low-income and older people that must be addressed. I just came from a meeting with House Republican leadership on this bill and my message to them was: we have to get this right. Even if it takes additional time and consideration, it’s worth it to make sure that we repeal Obamacare and replace it with something that works for the people I serve. As far as I’m concerned the bill is still a work in progress and is not our final product.”

In another warning signal, four GOP governors wrote congressional leaders saying the beleaguered bill would not work for their states.

Govs. John Kasich of Ohio, Rick Snyder of Michigan, Brian Sandoval of Nevada, and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas said the legislation “provides almost no new flexibility for states,” fails to ensure enough resources to protect vulnerable residents and shifts significant new costs to states.

A copy of the letter was provided to The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told the Portland Press Herald, “This is not a bill I could support in its current form.” Collins joins Kentucky’s Rand Paul and Utah’s Mike Lee in opposing the legislation, while other Republicans, including Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ted Cruz of Texas, have expressed deep misgivings. Collins’ opposition leaves the bill short of the support it needs in the Senate unless it changes, since GOP leaders can only lose two votes.

The House GOP bill repeals elements of the Obama law, including the individual mandate that penalizes people who don’t have insurance. It sets up a new system of tax credits that is less generous, particularly to older Americans. It eliminates some of Obamacare’s requirements for services health plans need to cover, and it sunsets an expansion of Medicaid over several years, an element causing great consternation with moderate-leaning Republicans but one that conservatives want to move up faster.

The bill also cuts a slew of taxes, mostly to the benefit of the rich. Conservatives say it doesn’t go far enough in repealing the Obama-era law in full, and an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found 24 million people would lose their health insurance over a decade, though the bill would also reduce the deficit.