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House GOP Obamacare repeal bid dead after Ryan cancels vote

Saturday, March 25, 2017 - 07:16

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Paul Ryan scrapped the scheduled vote to replace Obamacare on Friday afternoon (March 24) due to the lack of support.

[WASHINGTON] House Republicans abandoned their efforts to repeal and partially replace Obamacare after President Donald Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan concluded they didn't have enough support, marking an embarrassing setback for the GOP agenda.

One day after the president demanded a do-or-die vote on the longtime GOP priority, Mr Ryan scrapped the scheduled vote Friday afternoon after Mr Trump asked him to in a phone conversation, according to a senior leadership aide.

"I will not sugarcoat this: This is a disappointing day for us," Mr Ryan told reporters.

"But it is not the end of the story."

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Mr Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that the GOP was maybe 10 votes short, but didn't quite get here.

"We'll end up with a truly great health-care bill after the Obamacare mess explodes," he said.

For now, he said he's ready to start on a tax overhaul.

Chairman Kevin Brady of Texas said in a statement that Republicans on his panel "are moving full speed ahead with President Trump on the first pro-growth tax reform in a generation."

Mr Ryan said the party will need some time to regroup.

"Now, we're going to move on with the rest of our agenda," he said.

"We will proceed with tax reform."

Hospital stocks surged on the news of the cancellation, with the BI North America Hospitals Competitive Peer Group up 5.4 per cent at the close in New York. Centene Corp, an insurer that focuses on Medicaid plans, rose 5.2 per cent to US$68.73. Hospitals and insurers like Centene would have been hurt by the GOP bill, which would cut millions of people from health insurance and roll back an expansion of the Medicaid program for the poor.

Lawmakers sounded ready to turn their attention to other issues.

"This bill is dead," said Republican Greg Walden of Oregon, the former chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

This outcome is an embarrassing setback that casts doubt on Mr Trump and Mr Ryan's ability to deliver on their ambitious agenda, including taxes and infrastructure, both of which are being closely watched by Wall Street.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement, "I share their disappointment that this effort came up short," but made no mention of any effort to address Obamacare in his chamber.

Mr Trump was publicly supportive of Mr Ryan, saying, "he worked very, very hard" on the health care plan. Behind the scenes, though, the president's aides blame Mr Ryan for the bill's defeat, a senior administration official said.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa wrote on Twitter that one lesson from the episode was that "major social policy change in US must be bipartisan".

Representative Steve Womack said Republicans need to get back to basics and have an "introspective conversation" about what it means to govern.

"We have moderates and we have ultra-conservative people in the conference. We have to re-educate ourselves in mathematics and basic arithmetic," he said.

"We have to learn that we're not just the party of no. We have to learn how to govern."

He called it "a loss for leadership".

It also leaves the health care issue in limbo in Washington.

"Obamacare is the law of the land. It's going to remain the law of the land until it's replaced," Mr Ryan said.

"We're going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future."'

Democrats said they were ready to have a conversation on how to improve Obamacare.

"It is now abundantly clear to every Member of Congress that the only option for progress going forward is bipartisan legislation to improve the Affordable Care Act. That's what the American people want. It's time to govern," said John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

Mr Trump himself had waded into the legislative weeds to fight for the bill, meeting with scores of lawmakers and traveling to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to address the full House Republican conference. 

The president "left everything on the field", according to spokesman Sean Spicer.

Top Trump aides told House Republicans Thursday night that the president had run out of patience: he wanted a vote Friday, win or lose, even if that meant leaving Obamacare in place.

"There's some divisiveness within our conference now that's not healthy," said New York Republican Chris Collins, the first House members to endorse Mr Trump during the campaign.

"I've never seen this before. People are just refusing to talk to each other. They're storming past each other. This is not good."

Conservatives and moderates said they would have voted against the bill. Among those who announced opposition to the bill was House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey.

During Obama's administration, the Republican-controlled House voted more than 50 times to repeal or curtail Obamacare. One repeal measure made it to Obama's desk, and he vetoed it.

Mr Ryan boasted during last year's campaign that the GOP had a clear consensus on how to finally repeal and replace the health law under a Republican president.

"They had seven years to come up with their so-called better way and it's clear they were bluffing all along," House Democrat Linda Sanchez of California said Friday.

Mr Trump and Mr Ryan repeatedly called Obamacare a "disaster" that was collapsing under its own weight. But in 2015, the proportion of the US population without insurance fell to a record low - about 10.5 per cent of Americans younger than 65, down from 18.2 per cent in 2010.

The Republican proposal aimed to pull hundreds of billions of dollars out of the health system by winding down Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid and limiting its subsidies, thereby threatening revenue for hospitals, doctors and insurance companies.

But conservatives wanted a more complete repeal, while moderates were taken aback when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the GOP plan would leave 24 million fewer Americans with health insurance by 2026.

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