Back on Capitol Hill, Republican leaders negotiated behind closed
doors, held media conferences and gave cable-news interviews as they
tried to push forward their plan to dismantle the Affordable Care
Act, commonly called Obamacare.
After Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan unveiled the new plan last
week, fault lines appeared within the party as some conservatives
said it did not go far enough and others rejected it entirely.
Trump used campaign-like language in his Wednesday night speech,
pledging "to repeal and replace horrible, disastrous Obamacare."
Speaking to reporters aboard presidential plane Air Force One after
the rally, Trump expressed optimism about his plan's chances in
"We're going to come up with something. We always do," he said.
Republicans control both Congress and the White House for the first
time in a decade, but the overhaul still faces political battles to
be fought by a president new to governing.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters before the rally
the Trump administration had been in talks with Ryan and
congressional leaders and was flooding the media with interviews
with administration officials to help advance the plan.
Ryan, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, also
continued to champion the legislation, saying on cable news he was
open to making "improvements and refinements," but also adding "the
major components are staying intact."
He told a news conference later in the evening the House would hold
votes on repealing and replacing Obamacare but refused to provide a
Two House committees approved the bill's provisions with no changes
last week. The Budget Committee will try on Thursday to unify the
plan into a single bill for consideration on the House floor.
Republicans cannot afford to lose more than three from their ranks
on the committee for it to pass. Three committee Republicans are
members of the hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus.
Signs emerged on Wednesday that the White House was winning over
reluctant conservatives who initially questioned the legislation on
the grounds that it too closely resembled Obamacare, the signature
domestic policy achievement of former President Barack Obama.
The administration indicated it was open to revisiting the plan's
treatment of Medicaid, the government health insurance program for
the poor, during a meeting with a conservative wing of the party.
Specifically, conservatives want Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid
to end sooner than proposed in the Ryan plan, and want to introduce
Medicaid work requirements for able-bodied adults without children.
State governments run Medicaid with reimbursements from the federal
government. Obamacare expanded its eligibility and increased funding
for it, which enabled about 10 million previously uninsured
Americans to obtain medical insurance.
Vice President Mike Pence advocated for the plan earlier on
Wednesday behind closed doors with the Republican Study Committee, a
large group of House conservatives.
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Republican Representative Phil Roe said after the Pence meeting the
bill would probably be changed to move up the end of the Medicaid
expansion by one year, to 2019.
The conservative group's members were "very close to signing off" on
the legislation, its leader, Representative Mark Walker, told
Speaking on CNN, Ryan mentioned "giving states better chances at
more flexibility with Medicaid," but provided no details.
Just as the party's conservatives began expressing optimism about
the proposal's fortunes, Republican moderates raised concerns that
tax credits currently in the bill intended to help people buy health
insurance were not sufficient.
Representative Charlie Dent, following a meeting of moderate
Republicans with Pence, told reporters that speeding up the
termination of the Medicaid expansion was a "non-starter."
Senate Republicans have also voiced rising unease.
"As written, the House bill would not pass the Senate. But I believe
we can fix it," Senator Ted Cruz told reporters.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told NBC's "Today" show: "It is
The conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks held a rally amid snow
flurries and a frigid wind outside the Capitol, where several House
and Senate Republicans, including Cruz and Senator Rand Paul, voiced
dissatisfaction with the bill.
Paul later told reporters: "The White House has been much more open
to negotiation on this" than House leaders.
A libertarian, Paul posted an op-ed on the Breitbart News website
later on Wednesday calling Ryan's plan "Obamacare Lite" and
suggesting smashing it to "smithereens."
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released data
showing enrollment in the individual insurance plans created under
Obamacare has declined to 12.2 million Americans.
Enrollment in these individual insurance plans was down by about
500,000 people from 2016 by the end of January, it said. It is about
1.6 million people short of Obama's goal for 2017 sign-ups, the
(Additional reporting by David Morgan, Lewis Krauskopf, Caroline
Humer, Ayesha Rascoe, Eric Beech, Richard Cowan; Writing by Will
Dunham and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Leslie Adler and Paul Tait)
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