US President Donald Trump’s deal-making was put to the test on Wednesday in his first major legislative battle, as Congress hotly debated a health care replacement plan opposed by several lawmakers in his own party.
|A committe hearing on the American Health Care Act, the Republican attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare, in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill on Wednesday in Washington, DC. — AFP/VNA Photo|
Two committees in the House of Representatives began reviewing a sweeping bill that unwinds and replaces the Affordable Care Act, the emblematic health care reforms implemented under Barack Obama.
After seven years of Republican efforts to rip up Obamacare, it remained unclear whether Trump has the necessary votes to get the controversial replacement measure across the finish line -- even with Republicans controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress.
Trump and his team are "in full sell mode" regarding the plan, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said.
Republican leaders indicated they want to get the bill to the president’s desk prior to the Easter break in early April.
Tempers flared in the House Energy and Commerce Committee as lawmakers clashed over how to proceed.
Democrats sought unsuccessfully to postpone the bill’s consideration for 30 days. They also threatened to introduce some 100 amendments to the measure.
"If people didn’t like Obamacare, they’re going to hate this," said House Democrat Eliot Engel.
The plan was crafted by Republican leaders and endorsed by Trump, who campaigned heavily last year on a pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare.
But influential Republicans are hardening against the plan, arguing it is too similar to the law despised by conservatives.
Far-right lawmakers said the plan shuns conservative principles by maintaining government subsidies of the Affordable Care Act, under the guise of "refundable tax credits" for people to purchase their own health insurance.
"I don’t think the plan they introduced yesterday is going to bring down the cost for working-class and middle-class families," House Republican Jim Jordan told MSNBC.
Under pressure to bring several Republicans back on board, Trump huddled with conservative leaders whose organisations have criticised the plan. Among them was Adam Brandon of FreedomWorks, who sought to cut through the tension.
"This is a great step in exchanging ideas to figure out a way that we can all be on the exact same page, and I’m confident in the process Obamacare will be gone and replaced with a much better alternative," Brandon said at the White House.
Trump afterward dined with conservative Senator Ted Cruz, who has said the bill as written likely would not pass the Senate.
Many conservatives oppose using the tax credits, which would range from $2,000 a year for someone under age 30, to $4,000 for someone 60 or older.
Democrats warn that those credits are on average less than the subsidies built into the Obamacare premiums.
The new plan "will cause millions to lose insurance as well as blow a gigantic hole in the federal budget," top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said, noting that congressional officials have yet to release a cost estimate for the legislation.
Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Greg Walden promised the new plan "will not pull the rug out from anyone as we transition away from this failing law."
Democrats cautioned that Republicans were starting to ram the massive legislation through Congress just two days after it was introduced.
"Withdraw this message bill, and work with us to improve the Affordable Care Act," implored Democrat Jerry McNerney.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said he had "no doubt" the bill would pass his chamber. But he acknowledged there have been "growing pains" along the way as Republicans gained control of the White House and readied their bill.
Some House conservatives contradicted Ryan’s positive outlook.
"With the current bill, there’s not 218," the votes needed to pass legislation in the House, congressman David Brat told reporters.
No Democrats have expressed support for the plan.
With debate dragging late Wednesday in the Ways and Means Committee, chairman Kevin Brady said the panel "will work through the night, if that’s what it takes."
Democrat Engel warned that Republicans could face a brutal reckoning if their plan fails to improve on the current system.
If passage of Obamacare’s landmark reforms led to Democrats losing their majority in Congress, Engel told Republicans, "you guys are putting yourself in jeopardy of losing the majority because of this monstrosity."