Dealmaker meets dealbreaker: health care vote pulled in U.S. House
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump may be an artful deal-maker in real estate, but his strongarm tactics don’t work in Washington.
That became clear Friday after Republicans pulled a controversial health care vote that was central to presidential and down-ticket campaign promises and the major focus of conservatives since the 2010 passage of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
“This is a disappointing day for us. Doing big things is hard,” U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said after canceling Friday’s vote. “This is a setback, no two ways about it, but it is not the end of the story because I know every man and woman in this conference is now motivated more than ever to step up our game to deliver on our promises.”
He did not lay out next steps but maintained that the Affordable Care Act— or Obamacare — is fundamentally flawed.
Mr. Trump told reporters Democrats eventually will come to Republicans to negotiate a replacement.
Mr. Ryan seemed less sure of that.
“Obamacare is the law of the land. It’s going to remain the law of the land until it’s replaced,” he said. “I don’t know how long it’s going to take us to replace this law.” Republicans would go on with the rest of their agenda, including border security, tax reform, deficit reduction, military investment and infrastructure improvement, he said.
Some Democrats said the spectacular failure demonstrated a profound lack of understanding about how things work in Washington. Mr. Trump issued an ultimatum Thursday: Pass the GOP bill now or live with Obamacare. Hours later it was clear the threat from the author of “The Art of the Deal” had failed to corral the needed votes.
As constituents flooded lawmakers’ offices with phone calls, Republican support began dropping off, and it became clear Mr. Ryan didn’t have the votes he needed for passage. He emerged from an afternoon meeting at the White House and pulled the bill from the floor mid-debate. There was some dispute over whether it was his idea or Mr. Trump’s.
In either case, said U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, it demonstrated an overreach by the White House. It isn’t unusual for a president to ask for congressional action, but it’s unorthodox to demand it, said Mr. Doyle.
In the end, Mr. Ryan was unable to get his fractured caucus to meet the president’s demand.
The most conservative Republicans, who make up the Freedom Caucus, said the bill didn’t go far enough because it still included too many entitlements. Moderates were concerned about coverage losses.
And the public was rebelling.
A Quinnipiac University poll Thursday showed that 56 percent of Americans oppose the GOP plan and 17 percent support it. And activists on both sides were engaged Thursday and Friday, flooding congressional offices with phone calls.
About two-thirds of callers to U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy’s right-leaning district were in favor of the GOP plan and one-third were opposed, a spokeswoman for the Upper St. Clair Republican said.
Other Republicans were hearing from constituents, too.
“Their phones were ringing off the hook. Constituents were telling them they didn’t like this bill, and they were starting to reflect that to their leadership,” Mr. Doyle said.
“This was a very bad bill, and the public understood it was a very bad bill,” Mr. Doyle said. “It didn’t lower premiums and it didn’t lower deductibles.”
In his own floor speech, U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Butler, couldn’t have disagreed more. He would have been a yes vote, had a roll call been taken.
“We’re sitting here today because [the Affordable Care Act] is so bad. If it wasn’t so bad we wouldn’t have to worry about it. It’s bad,” he said.
Mr. Murphy also supported the GOP replacement plan. He had spent the week negotiating $15 billion in additional funding for mental health and addiction services.
“I am disappointed but not defeated,” he said Friday evening. “With skyrocketing premiums, 53 percent in Pennsylvania, nearly one-third of all U.S. counties having only one insurer offering plans on their state’s exchange and 18 of 23 failed co-ops, we know Obamacare is nearly collapsed and Americans need real relief.”
U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickly, who had not taken a public position on the bill, said Friday that he supports the effort to continue working on a new bill.
“The Republican plan offered an opportunity to begin the process of moving away from Washington mandates and one-size-fits-all control to the greater flexibility and choice people want,” he said. “I ran for Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare. I remain committed to that goal.”
The intraparty divisions over health care don’t surprise Val DiGiorgio, chairman of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania.
“Health care’s always been tricky,” he said. “I’m not surprised we’re at this place. It’s hard to get any sort of consensus on this.”
Friday’s outcome shows that “our party is not a top-down party,” he said. “We respect differences of opinion. ... We don’t stand in lockstep with our leadership all the time, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
Democrats in Harrisburg expressed relief.
“There are changes and modifications that need to be made … but this sort of gut-and-replace went too far,” said state Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills. “The idea of losing [coverage] was scary for a lot of folks,” including many who flooded his offices with calls and postcards.
The bill was pulled “because people all throughout our commonwealth raised their voices,” said Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman Marcel Groen. “When our communities organize protests, hold rallies, and call and write their representatives, they make a difference.”
Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, had been among those lobbying against passage — most recently in a letter Friday morning to Pennsylvania members of Congress.
The bill never made it to the Senate, but if it had, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., would have railed against it.
“TrumpCare wasn’t pulled down in the House of Representatives for lack of horse-trading among congressional Republicans, but it failed today because Pennsylvanians and millions of Americans rallied and exposed this scheme for what it was: a massive tax cut for the wealthiest at the expense of middle-class families, seniors and individuals with disabilities,” he said in a written statement.
The Republican plan would have eliminated the mandate to purchase health care by ending tax penalties for businesses and individuals who don’t buy it. It also would have converted need-based subsidies to age-based tax credits, fund (and likely shrink) Medicaid through a block-grant system, and end taxes paid by insurance companies and top earners. It also would have allowed insurance companies to charge a penalty to people who allow coverage to lapse, and would have allowed higher premiums for older people than younger ones.
The Congressional Budget Office said the bill would have resulted in 24 million more uninsured people by 2026 while it reduced the deficit by $327 billion.