Here’s why the vote on the Republican health care bill was delayed
UPDATE 10:17 a.m. Mar. 24: The House is pressing ahead with its vote on the Republican health care bill, after the White House told GOP leadership late Thursday that he was done negotiating and would move on if a vote didn’t occur.
House Republicans unveiled their long-discussed health care bill 17 days ago. Since then, the House GOP’s plan to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s signature health care law has gone through a dramatic ebb and flow on Capitol Hill, gaining the full backing of a new president looking for wins but losing support from core moderates and conservatives in Congress.
PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff gets updates on the vote on the AHCA from Lisa Desjardins on Capitol Hill and John Yang at the White House.
House GOP leaders canceled a planned vote on the bill Thursday after it became clear they didn’t have enough votes to pass the measure. The delay made headlines, but it actually follows a familiar pattern as other major pieces of legislation in Congress: the bills often hit a wall immediately before finding their way.
But the past two weeks have also been especially chaotic on the Hill. Throughout the process, there were several indications of potential problems for Republicans. Here are some of the reasons the bill has struggled to get to the finish line:
- A Fast Timeline. Major bills do not move easily. Or quickly. The decision to try to pass a bill that revamps health care spending — which could soon account for one-fifth of the country’s gross domestic product — in just three weeks was daring or risky (depending on your perspective) to begin with. Even before the bill hit the committees with jurisdiction over health issues, Republican members who are generally supportive of their leaders told me they were worried about the timeline.
- Very large groups are unhappy. Congress has a love-hate relationship with special interest groups. But when large, sweeping stakeholders like the AARP, American Medical Association and scores of hospital and other medical groups come out against the bill, as they did in the first week, it’s not a good sign. Many of these groups are either bipartisan or like to support Republicans — but not this bill.
- The White House says “we’re getting there.” As late as Wednesday, Republican leaders on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue signaled they were confident the bill would pass on Thursday, when a final vote was first scheduled. But if you listened closely to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, you could hear an indication of reality. “I mean, piece by piece, member by member, we’re getting there,” he said in his Wednesday briefing, “and we’re getting much closer.” That is different from “we have the votes.”
- The Freedom Caucus is trending on Twitter — and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the group’s chairman, is on every cable channel. When the rebellious, committed conservatives of the House Freedom Caucus start dominating social media and cable news, that’s generally a sign that the House Republican conference is fractured and in trouble on a particular issue or bill. And that’s exactly what’s happened in the days since House GOP leaders introduced the health care bill.
- Reporters and photographers are almost injuring each other waiting for news. This is an absolute sign of trouble. The intensity of pushing and shoving Thursday in a usually cooperative group of photojournalists and reporters was something I’ve only seen perhaps twice before. Both of those times involved either an impending debt limit collision or government shutdown. The fact that it’s happening again now is not a good sign for the bill, or the press.
- The House Speaker is silent. This can be read two ways. Sometimes no news from the leaders’ offices means there are true negotiations happening. It can be, actually, a very good sign that there is real progress and no one wants to ruin it with unwise words to the press. But other times, as we saw Thursday, no news from the speaker’s office is bad news for the speaker’s office.