By Susan Cornwell and Amanda Becker
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – US President Donald Trump has warned Republican House of Representatives lawmakers that he will leave Obamacare in place and move on to tax reform if they do not back the new health legislation and back it in a vote. on Friday.
It was unclear late Thursday night that Trump and the Republican leaders who crafted the bill had enough support to pass it, meaning they are now at risk of being defeated in their first attempt at major legislation and they may not deliver on a key campaign promise.
“We have promised the American people that we will repeal and replace this broken law because it is falling apart and their families are failing, and tomorrow we will move on,” House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters after an evening meeting. . He ignored journalists who asked him if he had obtained the votes to pass the bill.
Ryan and House leaders were forced to postpone a vote on their healthcare bill, formally called the American Health Care Act, early Thursday, giving Trump an embarrassing setback.
The vote had been symbolically planned for the anniversary of former Democratic President Barack Obama‘s signing in 2010. It was supposed to have been Trump’s first legislative victory in 2010, the Affordable Care Act.
Trump and his fellow Republicans had pledged to replace Obamacare, which they consider too intrusive and too expensive.
But, after a week of calling Republican lawmakers and taking them to the Oval Office for meetings, Trump failed to close the deal with two different factions within his party in time for the vote scheduled for Thursday.
Conservatives felt the bill didn’t go far enough to repeal Obamacare and moderates felt the plan could harm their constituents. Republican leaders in the House of Representatives had signaled that they were ready to work through the weekend to find a way to reconcile their differences.
As the health drama unfolded on Capitol Hill, Trump was calm, taking a break from negotiations to hang out with some truckers, climbing into the cab of a long-haul truck parked in the back entrance to the White House and blew the air. honk a few times.
He told reporters that the vote would be closed, but remained optimistic. “I think we’re doing well. We’ll find out in about three hours,” he said, just as reports began to emerge that the vote had been postponed.
In the evening, Trump sent his top lieutenants to a dramatic meeting on Capitol Hill Thursday night with an ultimatum: He had finished speaking. According to New York Rep. Chris Collins, a top Trump ally, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told House Republicans that Trump wanted a vote.
“The president has said he wants a vote tomorrow, up or down,” Collins said.
“If for whatever reason it doesn’t work, we’re just going to move on with additional parts of his agenda,” like tax reform, Collins told reporters after leaving the meeting.
Yet financial markets have seen the vote as crucial test of Trump’s ability to work with Congress to meet his other priorities, such as tax cuts and infrastructure spending.
Even if his replacement plan does win approval from the House, the legislation faces a potentially tough fight in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The House and Senate expected to deliver a new healthcare bill to Trump by April 8, when Congress is scheduled to begin a two-week spring break.
Republicans have a majority in the House but, due to united Democratic opposition, they can afford to lose just 21 Republican votes. On Thursday morning, NBC News said 30 Republicans had planned to vote “no” or were leaning in that direction.
North Carolina Congressman Mark Meadows, chairman of the fundamental conservative bloc known as the Freedom Caucus, said he and others were fighting to support the plan.
“I’m desperately trying to get to a ‘yes’ and I think the president knows it. I told him personally,” Meadows said. However, after the meeting on Thursday night, it was still a ‘no’.
Obamacare aimed to increase the number of Americans with health insurance through mandates for individuals and employers, and income-based subsidies. Some 20 million Americans obtained insurance coverage through the law.
The House replacement plan would rescind taxes created by Obamacare, repeal a penalty against people who do not buy coverage, cut funding for the Medicaid program for the poor and disabled, and modify tax subsidies that help people buy. plans.
House leaders agreed to four pages of last-minute amendments to the bill, including allowing states to choose which “essential benefits” are required in health insurance plans and maintaining a 0.9 percent surcharge on Medicare for those high-income Americans for six years. It was unclear if that was enough.
Representative Trent Franks, a member of the Freedom Caucus who had not been “stated” about his position on the bill, said he liked the changes. “It’s going in the right direction,” Franks said outside the House.
The amendments will give states more money for maternal health and mental health, said Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, a Nebraska moderate who has not yet said how he will vote.
MARKETS COME CLOSE
Uncertainty over the healthcare bill shook financial markets this week. The delay in the House vote is likely to amplify the ups and downs in stocks of some groups of hospitals and health insurers.
US stock markets rose steadily in recent months on optimism about a pro-business Trump agenda, but fell sharply on Tuesday as investors worried that the lack of passage of the healthcare bill it could postpone other business-friendly Trump priorities.
“Delay in healthcare equates to delay in tax cuts. That’s why the market turned red when the news flow suggested they didn’t have a deal,” said David Kotok, president and chief investment officer at Cumberland Advisors, a money management firm.
Others said it was too early to panic.
“If this is materially delayed or if we get a ‘no’ vote, we will see a horrible reaction from the market. But if they vote in the morning and it happens, we will have a great recovery. said Jake Dollarhide, CEO of Longbow Asset Management in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Graphic on Obamacare and the Republican Healthcare Bill (http://tmsnrt.rs/2n0ZMKf)
Graphic on Position Changes in the United States Senate on the Republican Healthcare Bill (http://tmsnrt.rs/2mUE4Xf)
Chart from Survey of Americans’ Views of the Republican Healthcare Bill (http://tmsnrt.rs/2n7f3e4)