First House panel advances ObamaCare repeal bill

First House panel advances ObamaCare repeal bill
© Greg Nash

The House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday advanced GOP legislation to repeal and replace ObamaCare on a party line vote, moving the process forward even as the bill faces headwinds. 

Republican leaders are pushing forward with the process on a fast timetable, even as many conservatives strongly object to the bill, known as the American Health Care Act, and centrists harbor their own reservations. 

The committee markup lasted over 16 hours, stretching until after 4 a.m. Thursday before the measure was approved, 23-16. Republicans blamed Democrats for purposely dragging the process out with a range of amendments. The measure now goes to the House Budget Committee, with plans for a vote in the full House within weeks. 

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Democrats said Republicans were wrongly advancing the bill in the middle of the night. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, meanwhile, was still going, working through the night. 

“Here were are at almost 2 o’clock in the morning taking a vote when the American people have gone to sleep,” said Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), the Ways and Means Committee’s top Democrat. 

Democrats were generally more vocal, denouncing a range of measures in the bill, while Republicans voted down amendment after amendment. 

The committee called a markup without a score from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), meaning lawmakers voted without an analysis of how much the bill will cost or how many people would lose coverage. 

Democrats argued that Republicans wanted to move forward without a score because it would cast a bad light on their healthcare plan. 

"You’re fearful the CBO will provide answers to questions that you don’t like," said Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.). 

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin BradyOvernight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea Week ahead in finance: Clock ticking for GOP on tax reform Liberal groups want Mnuchin off GOP tax group following airplane controversies MORE (R-Texas) pushed back on Democratic concerns about the markup occurring without a CBO score.

"We expect CBO to have a thoughtful, thorough, comprehensive score to us before this recommendation goes to the Budget Committee, comes to the House floor," he said.   

Republicans also pushed aside a Democratic amendment aimed at highlighting the "Trump promise" that everyone would have health insurance under a GOP plan. 

The amendment from Rep. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerHouse votes to block aircraft sales to Iran Expand the health savings account 'safe harbor' to reduce health costs Time to pass the U.S. OUTDOOR Act to support American jobs and consumers MORE (D-Ore.) would have prevented the GOP ObamaCare replacement bill from taking effect until the CBO ensured that the bill would provide health insurance for "all taxpayers and their dependents."

The amendment was an attempt to draw attention to President Trump's comment in January to The Washington Post that a GOP plan should provide "insurance for everybody."

Republicans acknowledge that their bill will cover fewer people than ObamaCare but say that it is not trying to compete with the health law, which includes a mandate requiring coverage. 

Republicans sidelined the amendment on parliamentary grounds, saying that it was not germane, as they did with a range of other Democratic amendments. Blumenauer said lawmakers should "give the American people the 'Trump guarantee.'"

Later, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) held up Trump’s quotation on a poster. 

Republicans blamed Democrats for dragging out the process with off-topic amendments. 

Democrats denounced Republicans for repealing a pair of ObamaCare taxes on high-income people. Levin asked “how this isn’t a boondoggle for the very wealthy while really assaulting the interests of typical middle class families.”

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) defended the repeal of one of the taxes, on investment income. “If investment is good, then why are we raising taxes on investment?” he said. 

Democrats noted that the repeal of the higher Medicare taxes on high earners is projected to reduce the expected solvency of the Medicare trust fund by three years. 

More broadly, Brady praised repealing all of the ObamaCare taxes. “Do you want all these taxes on people, or do you want affordable healthcare?” he said. 

Levin also criticized the new Republican tax credit for failing to give enough help to low-income people, citing a Kaiser Family Foundation study that found the new credit would provide an average of 36 percent less help than the assistance under ObamaCare.  

Democrats offered a range of other amendments, including to prevent enactment of the bill if it was found to raise out of pocket health costs and to allow states to choose to keep ObamaCare, among other issues. 

Doggett unsuccessfully offered a motion to delay the Ways and Means markup until next week, arguing that the bill is a "legislative surprise package" released just two days before the committee vote. 

"If you have nothing to hide, a week will not impair your effort," he said.