WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders and President Trump worked feverishly until the last minute to whip GOPs into line, but just before lawmakers were expecting a vote on the American Health Care Act leaders pulled the Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill from the floor.
Twenty minutes after the vote had been expected to proceed, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) faced reporters on Capitol Hill and declared “we’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.” Soon after that, Trump was declaring from the Oval Office that a healthcare bill forged with Democrats would be the best way to go.
And after Trump’s Thursday night threats that it was either this bill or nothing, GOP leaders confirmed that they’re dropping healthcare and moving on to other items on the president’s agenda — as Trump emphasized his excitement about proceeding to tax reform.
“Moving from an opposition party to a governing party comes with growing pains,” Ryan said, stressing “we came really close today but we came up short.”
It wasn’t just about the House Freedom Caucus conservatives holding their support while pushing full repeal, but moderates shying away from the bill because of Medicaid cuts and other changes they saw as damaging in their districts.
“Unfortunately, the legislation before the House today is currently unacceptable as it would place significant new costs and barriers to care on my constituents in New Jersey. In addition to the loss of Medicaid coverage for so many people in my Medicaid-dependent state, the denial of essential health benefits in the individual market raise serious coverage and cost issues,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) announced in a Facebook statement this morning, a “no” vote that may have been the moment of the bill’s death knell.
“I remain hopeful that the American Health Care Act will be further modified,” he added. “We need to get this right for all Americans.”
Ryan said that as leaders crunched the numbers at the last minute and saw the “disappointing” whip tallies, he talked to Trump and said he was going to pull the legislation. “He agreed with that decision,” the Speaker added.
At the White House press briefing just a few hours before the bill was pulled, press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump “has been working the phones and having in-person meetings since the American Health Care Act was introduced — he’s left everything on the field when it comes to this bill.”
“By our count, over 120 members have personally had a visit, call or meeting here at the White House in the past few days, which is an extraordinary feat,” Spicer said. “The president and his team have committed everything they can to making this thing happen.”
At his press conference, amid reports that administration officials were ready to lay the blame on at his feet, Ryan said “doing big things is hard.”
“Are we willing to say yes to the good… even if it’s not the perfect?” he said, nevertheless thanking members of the GOP caucus who tried to negotiate as well as Trump. “The president gave his all in this effort … he’s really been fantastic. Still, we’ve got to do better and we will.”
Though the Speaker acknowledged that Obamacare is the law, he predicted “any fashion of it” wouldn’t survive. “I don’t think the architects of Obamacare envisioned this future,” he said, describing its “death spiral.”
Ryan refused to “cast blame” on any of the resistant blocs in the GOP caucus. “We believe this bill was the best way to go, but we just really didn’t have the consensus to get there,” he added. “…I think our members know we did everything we could to get consensus.”
He said GOP leaders want to move on to “big ambitious plans to improve people’s lives in this country,” yet acknowledged that the party burned some political capital. “Yes, this does make tax reform more difficult, but it doesn’t in any way make it impossible.”
Trump told reporters at the White House that “it was a very, very tight margin” but the “best thing we can do, politically speaking, is let Obamacare explode.”
The president argued that if reticent lawmakers had considered phases two and three of the replacement plan “it would have been a great bill.”
Instead, Trump said it would now be good if Democrats “got together with us — I’d be totally open to it” to craft a bipartisan healthcare fix “when they all become civilized.”
He said he has “a great relationship with the Republican Party” despite the faction splits in the healthcare debate — “both sides like Trump, and that’s good.”
“Bad things are going to happen to Obamacare; there’s not much you can do to help it,” Trump said, adding that many Democrats are “good people” and he believes
“they’ll come to us” to work on a new bill.
Still, Trump admitted he was “disappointed” by the turn of events. “I’m a little surprised, to be honest with you — it was pretty much there within grasp,” he said. “But I think what’s going to come out of it is a better bill … having bipartisan would be a big, big improvement.”
“I never said repeal and replace Obamacare… within 64 days,” he added. “…I want to have a great healthcare bill and plan and we will.”
But for now, Trump said, he’ll be “going very, very strongly for the big tax cuts and tax reform.”
At a press conference with House Dem leaders, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declared it “a great day for our country” as “what happened on the floor was a victory for the American people, for our seniors, for people with disabilities, for our children, for our veterans.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) mocked Trump’s book, qupping, “So much for the Art of the Deal.”
“In my life, I have never seen an administration as incompetent as the one occupying the White House today,” Schumer slammed. “They can’t write policy that actually makes sense, they can’t implement the policies they do manage to write, they can’t get their stories straight, and today we’ve learned that they can’t close a deal, and they can’t count votes.”
“…Today should be the last day the cloud of Trumpcare hangs over the American people.”
Elsewhere in the Senate, where the GOP opposition promised in many ways to be stronger than in the House, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said the decision to pull the AHCA “was a sound, common-sense one.”
“We can now begin the hard and necessary process to get this right. We will begin working collaboratively here in the Senate and with our friends in the House to produce a bill that will get 51 votes in the Senate and 216 in the House. The bill will reduce costs, save taxpayers money, and make our healthcare system great again,” Lee vowed. “The reality is that the current House bill was not ready for the House floor and certainly not ready for the Senate.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), while also promising a future bill, simply thanked House conservatives “for keeping their word to the American people and standing up against Obamacare Lite.”