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Failing to close deal on health care, House GOP delays vote

March 23, 2017 at 6:50 PM EDT
The House Republican plan to hold a vote Thursday on a replacement for the Affordable Care Act has been delayed after a day of frenzied efforts to win over GOP holdouts. Judy Woodruff gets updates from Lisa Desjardins on Capitol Hill and John Yang at the White House.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: In a setback for President Trump and congressional Republicans, the plan to hold a vote in the House of Representatives this evening on a replacement for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, has been delayed.

We have reporters at both the White House and Capitol Hill on today’s frenzied efforts to win over GOP holdouts.

Let’s start with Lisa Desjardins at the Capitol.

LISA DESJARDINS: At the U.S. Capitol, the day began with empty space, the room where Republicans had hoped to hold a meeting of all their members, and an empty podium, where Speaker Paul Ryan’s usual lunchtime news conference was delayed.

Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions explained in an unusually blunt update about the GOP leaders’ health care bill.

REP. PETE SESSIONS, R-Texas: We think we have to make changes, but today we are here right now to say I don’t have all those answers.

LISA DESJARDINS: And Republicans also didn’t have the votes. And so, yet again, members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus went to the White House to negotiate with President Trump. They had already won concessions over the weekend. The bill would cut Medicaid spending by at least $880 billion over the next decade, and now gives states the option of cutting Medicaid further, by possibly adding work requirements.

It also gives a lump tax credit to recipients, based largely on age. and it would also end the taxes in the Affordable Care Act immediately. But conservatives pressed for additional changes today. Specifically, they want the bill to cut the so-called essential health benefits guaranteed by Obamacare. That would mean insurers would no longer have to provide coverage in areas like mental health, maternity and prescription drugs.

But when the Freedom Caucus returned from the Capitol, swarmed by media…

QUESTION: Are you a yes yet?

MAN: No, I’m not going to address that.

LISA DESJARDINS: There was no deal yet and the first indications that there wouldn’t be a vote either.

Michigan’s Justin Amash:

REP. JUSTIN AMASH, R-Mich.: We always try to get to yes, but I think it would be mistake to move forward today.

QUESTION: Not today?

LISA DESJARDINS: Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows:

REP. MARK MEADOWS, R-N.C.: I am still a no at this time. I am desperately trying to get to yes. And I think the president knows that. I told him that personally.

LISA DESJARDINS: But the White House was also negotiating with moderate Republicans, who openly oppose some of the changes for conservatives and the bill itself.

As Republicans faced two internal fronts, Democrats stayed on the attack.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif., House Minority Leader: Donald Trump may be a great negotiator. Rookie’s error for bringing this up on a day you clearly were not ready.

LISA DESJARDINS: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi made Republicans a kind of offer.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: If this bill were to fail today, rookie day, I would I — I stand ready to negotiate with them on how we can go forward, incorporating some of their ideas. This is a bad day for them. It’s bad if they win and it’s bad if they lose.

LISA DESJARDINS: The view from the White House podium could not have been more different. The president’s spokesman, Sean Spicer:

SEAN SPICER, White House Press Secretary: We have been very clear about this is a priority of ours and we worked with them. But, again, I go back to at the end of the day we can’t make people vote.

LISA DESJARDINS: And at the end of the day, neither could Republican leadership, pushing off the vote until at least tomorrow.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And Lisa is with us now live from the Capitol. And she’s joined by John Yang, who is at the White House.

So, Lisa, how certain are they that this vote will be tomorrow?

LISA DESJARDINS: They’re not certain.

In fact, the House, the man in charge of scheduling, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, is only saying that he hopes this vote will happen tomorrow. Tonight, the full House Republican Conference will meet, Judy. We will have an idea after that roughly of where things stand.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, John, what are they saying at the White House? This afternoon, the press secretary, Sean Spicer, was sounding confident this vote was coming, that they had the votes. That didn’t work out.

JOHN YANG: Well, Judy, they still say they are confident when the vote takes place, what whenever that may be, they will have the votes. But it’s clear behind the scenes that they don’t. They aren’t there yet. The president is working the phones, we’re told. He was working the phones until midnight last night.

He had meetings today, as Lisa reported, with both conservatives and moderates. They are still working to get the votes to get it through the House. And, of course, after they do that, then they have got to work to get it through the Senate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Lisa, pick up on that. I mean, talk about this, really a dilemma the Republican leadership is faced with. They are trying to appeal both to moderates and to conservatives at the same time, and each side wants something different.

LISA DESJARDINS: That’s right.

Initially, House leaders thought they could offer something to conservatives that wouldn’t be a problem for moderates. But they have gone past that point. Now, for everything they offer conservatives, every essential health benefit, for example, that may come out of this bill in some form, that is something that moderates see as a loss for their constituents.

Moderates are worried about coverage. Everyone is worried about coverage. Let’s say this. But, as a matter of priorities, moderates are worried about coverage and people covered. The conservatives are worried about how much government is involved, how much government is spending here.

And so every dime that you take off the table, moderates see that as a coverage loss. And that’s a real dilemma for Republicans.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, if it is a dilemma for Republicans on the Hill, John, it’s certainly a problem for the White House. How are they approaching this divided set of needs or demands coming from Republican members?

JOHN YANG: Well, you know, the president is not an ideological president. He’s less worried about the ideological issues here. He’s worried about getting to yes, getting to the votes they need to get this through Congress.

The message that you are hearing from the White House is that the House Republicans, recalcitrant House Republicans , is, this is something you campaigned on, this is something you promised your voters, now is the time.

Sean Spicer today had some pretty tough words, reminding House Republicans of all the — quote — “free votes” they took to repeal Obamacare, knowing that President Obama would veto those bills. But now he said it’s a live ball. In other words — and this is my interpretation of Sean’s words — it’s time to put up or shut up.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And now, Lisa, in the middle of all of this, late this afternoon, the Congressional Budget Office has come out with another calculation, if you will, of the fiscal impact of this bill as it was being modified, tweaked.

And it’s interesting. The numbers have just as many people losing coverage, and yet a smaller decrease in the size of the deficit.

LISA DESJARDINS: That’s right. Essentially, the CBO is saying that Republicans with their changes are spending more money. They still ultimately would shave a little off the deficit, about $150 billion, but that’s less than they would have saved in their initial version.

The CBO is saying, even though the price tag has gone up on this bill, there are not more people covered. Now, one reason for that, Judy — this gets a little wonky — is the way that the House did this, they offered a new tax deduction, but really that money is meant for the Senate to spend later to add coverage.

So, it may not — it may be a bit of a false read. Either way, we know that many millions wouldn’t be covered under this Republican health care bill.

And to pick up on something that John was saying, I talked to one Republican here. This is a test for the White House. But Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a deputy whip, told me, this is a test over whether Republicans can move from being an opposition party to being a governing party. He said, we still have to pass that test.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, John, what do they say at the White House? What is your read on what is at stake for them?

JOHN YANG: Well, there’s a lot at stake. Not only is this the first legislative initiative on the president’s part. Not only does he say this would clear the way for tax — the tax cut legislation and the infrastructure legislation to come that he promises this year, but also this is a president whose whole image is based on success and deal-making.

And if he fails on his first time out, the question is whether that image is tarnished.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, all eyes are on the places where the two of you are tonight. John Yang at the White House, Lisa Desjardins at the Capitol, thank you both.

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