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GOP withdraws health-care bill to avoid defeat in House vote

Updated March 24, 2017 - 3:26 pm

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump and Republican congressional leaders on Friday withdrew the health care bill intended to replace “Obamacare” in order to avoid a humiliating political defeat triggered by lawmakers from their own party.

“We were very close,” Trump told reporters at the White House after the announcement that the bill would not be put up for a vote in the House of Representatives. “We learned a lot about loyalty.”

It was a stinging political rebuke for both Trump, who made the repeal and replacement of “Obamacare” a centerpiece of his presidential campaign, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who led the fight for the more austere Republican plan.

“I will not sugarcoat this, this is a disappointing day for us,” Ryan said at a news conference. “This is a setback, no two ways about it, but it’s not the end of the story.”

Trump, who said he would turn to tax reform as his next priority, cited the lack of support from any Democrats for the bill’s demise, but also suggested that the defeat was temporary.

“Perhaps the best thing that could happen is exactly what happened today, because we’ll end up with a truly great health-care bill in the future after this mess known as Obamacare explodes,” he said.

The decision to pull the legislation came near the end of a whirlwind day in which supporters sought to cajole opposing or undecided GOP lawmakers to support it. Many resisted, mindful of the political implications back home.

Nevada delegation united in opposition

Nevada’s representatives unanimously opposed the bill, including Rep. Mark Amodei, the state’s lone Republican House member.

Amodei said the bill didn’t lower costs of premiums or reduce deductibles and that his constituents in northern Nevada were overwhelmingly opposed to it.

The Nevada Republican also said the troubled bill was the product of GOP leadership, not the president. Amodei suggested the House begin a renewed effort to craft a better plan that would reduce costs and provide more insurance options.

Trump campaigned against Obamacare and pledged to replace the 2010 legislation on the first day of his presidency with a better plan that ensured coverage but lowered premiums.

House Republicans voted unsuccessfully over 60 times in seven years to repeal the Affordable Care Act during Barack Obama’s presidency. But in their best opportunity, with Republicans in control of Congress and the White House, they failed again.

The hastily crafted American Health Care Act was pasted together by Republican leaders and endorsed by Trump, but failed to please GOP lawmakers for a variety of reasons.

GOP leaders suffered their first setback Thursday, when they postponed until Friday a planned vote on the measure to get more time to round up enough votes to pass it.

Trump demanded it go to the House floor where every lawmaker would be on record and threatened to campaign against Republicans who didn’t support the legislation.

But Trump and leaders blinked at the last moment Friday, and pulled the bill to avoid what apparently would have been an overwhelming loss and first legislative defeat for the president.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the GOP bill, even with late adjustments, would have forced about 24 million to lose insurance and increase costs of coverage for older Americans.

Nevada officials estimate that 400,000 state residents would have lost insurance under the House bill, and made it more costly for rural residents in counties where only one insurance provider exists.

Many of those were added to the rolls of the insured under Obamacare, when the state expanded its Medicaid program with federal funds. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval joined other Republican governors last week in opposing the House bill because it capped enrollment and shifted costs to the states.

Democrats celebrate withdrawal

House Democrats were united in their opposition. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the result a “victory for the American people.”

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said that more than 40,000 people would have lost insurance in her Las Vegas-based congressional district under “Trumpcare.”

Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., said the rate of uninsured in his district declined from 21.9 percent to 11.9 percent under Obamacare. Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., also cited the loss of insurance and services to constituents under the GOP plan.

The legislation fractured Republicans.

Conservatives complained the bill did not eliminate mandates — the requirement that adults purchase health insurance — and other rules established by Obamacare. They demanded and won a late change in the bill that left “essential benefits,” including prescription drugs, maternity care, mental health services and opioid addiction programs, up to the states.

It wasn’t enough.

Conservatives in the Freedom Caucus, the major force in opposition to the bill, met with Trump at the White House and with administration aides into the night Thursday trying to strike a deal.

Trump also met with moderate Republicans, who worried that concessions to conservatives would deprive even more people of insurance coverage and benefits.

“We’ve left everything on the field when it comes to this bill,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said earlier Friday of lobbying efforts by the president to build a Republican consensus to pass the bill.

Many lawmakers opposed to the bill cited constituent displeasure with the legislation.

A Quinnipiac University poll this week found that 56 percent of American voters disapproved of the GOP replacement bill, with 17 percent endorsing it and 26 percent undecided. Support among Republicans was lackluster as well, with a 41 percent approval rating.

The poll was taken nationally from March 16-21 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Contact Gary Martin at 202-662-7390 or gmartin@reviewjournal.com. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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