WASHINGTON — Speaker Paul Ryan said Tuesday he’s going to give battered House Republicans another crack at a health care overhaul. But he offered no timeline, and leaders haven’t resolved how to overcome the deep GOP divisions that crumpled their legislation last week in a humiliating retreat for themselves and President Donald Trump.
“We are all going to work together and listen together until we get this right,” Ryan told reporters after House Republicans met for the first time since he averted a Friday vote on a GOP health care bill that faced certain defeat. “It is just too important.”
The doomed GOP bill would have eliminated former President Barack Obama’s mandate for people to carry insurance or face fines and would have shrunk a Medicaid expansion. It relied on tax credits to help consumers purchase insurance that for many people would be less generous than under Obama’s statute.
Republican lawmakers, conservatives and moderates alike, emerged from Tuesday’s meeting saying there was a consensus to address the issue again, preferably soon. The closed-door meeting lasted nearly two hours, causing Ryan to delay his news conference.
“You don’t go anywhere until this is accomplished. That’s how we do things on the battlefield, that’s how things should be done here,” said freshman Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., an Army veteran who lost both legs after being wounded in Afghanistan.
After the meeting, Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., said that unless the issue is revisited in a month, he would force the House to vote on a bill that goes further than Ryan’s derailed measure in repealing Obama’s 2010 law.
Brooks is in in the conservative House Freedom Caucus, most of whom opposed the failed GOP bill, which was pivotal in the collapse of the party’s top priority so far this year. They complained it didn’t go far enough in erasing Obama’s statute.
“We’ll find out who is truly for repeal of Obamacare and who is not,” Brooks said.
The leader of the Freedom Caucus, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said his group was talking to moderate Republicans. Many of them also opposed the leadership’s failed bill because it would have pried health coverage from millions of voters.
“Obviously everybody wants to find a way to get this passed and we’re going to work real hard to do that,” said Meadows.
Republicans say they will now pivot to tax cuts and other issues while they try working out their differences. And they’ve offered mixed messages on what comes next.
Trump tweeted Monday evening that Democrats will cut a health care deal with him “as soon as Obamacare folds – not long. Do not worry.”
He also attacked anew the House Freedom Caucus, about three dozen hardcore conservatives who largely opposed the GOP bill. He wrote that they snatched “defeat from the jaws of victory.”
House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, an author of the failed legislation, told reporters that Republicans “are turning the page and moving on toward tax reform.” He said he’s encouraging the Senate to produce its own health care package, and he and others suggested that lawmakers may produce several smaller bills addressing pieces of the issue.
But the Senate GOP’s No. 2 leader, John Cornyn of Texas, showed little appetite to plunge ahead.
“My hope is that Democrats will quit gloating at our inability to get it done on a party-line basis and join us in fixing” Obama’s law, Cornyn said. He said he didn’t expect that to happen until “our Democratic friends have to start answering to the people who are being hurt by the failures of Obamacare.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democrats will address Obama’s overhaul only when Republicans drop their repeal effort. He accused Trump of using executive actions to destabilize the health care system. “That’s not presidential,” he said, “that’s petulance.”
Obama’s overhaul has provided insurance to 20 million additional people and forced insurers to provide better coverage to many more, but it’s also left some markets with soaring premiums and fewer insurers.
The health care strategizing comes as the GOP has one clear bright spot: Trump’s nomination of conservative appeals court Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. The Senate plans to consider Gorsuch next week.
Brady wants his panel to produce a bill overhauling much of the nation’s tax code this spring. But Republicans must overcome internal differences on that issue too, including whether to impose taxes on imports to encourage manufacturers to produce products domestically and whether the measure should drive up deficits.
Congress is fast approaching a deadline to pass government-wide spending legislation or face a shutdown. In the past such deadlines have prompted brinkmanship that sometimes led to shuttering agencies.
Associated Press writers Erica Werner, Kevin Freking and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.