GOP healthcare talks stall

GOP healthcare talks stall
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The Republican push to revive legislation repealing and replacing ObamaCare has stalled again, with GOP leaders shooting down the latest request to change the legislation from the Freedom Caucus.

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), the chief deputy whip, on Wednesday said the idea of allowing states to waive requirements for covering people with pre-existing conditions is a “bridge too far for our members” and can’t get enough votes to pass. 

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McHenry said lawmakers need a “cooling-off period” to think about where to go next.

“We need people to stop, take a deep breath and think through the way to yes.”

The comments came after a late-night meeting among different House GOP factions on Tuesday produced no progress. 

The latest stalemate means lawmakers in the House will leave for a two-week recess without having voted on a healthcare bill, their first legislative priority of the year.

Earlier in the week, it had appeared Republicans were making progress on ObamaCare repeal following the embarrassing withdrawal of the bill last month.

But the attempt to find consensus quickly gave way to new intraparty sniping, with conservatives arguing they are unfairly being blamed for the lack of progress.

The conservative group Heritage Action on Wednesday held a press call to accuse moderates of standing in the way of a deal and called for lawmakers to regroup over the recess.  

The negotiations this week centered on a proposal from Vice President Pence that would allow states to apply for waivers for key ObamaCare regulations. 

Those regulations include essential health benefits, which require insurance plans to cover a range of health services; community rating, which prevents insurers from charging people with pre-existing conditions higher premiums; and guaranteed issue, which prevents people with pre-existing conditions from being denied coverage.  

McHenry defended those aspects of ObamaCare, contained in Title I of the law, as providing important protections that a broad swath of the Republican conference does not want to take away. His comments highlighted how some Republicans are actually coming to the defense of parts of ObamaCare. 

“If you look at the key provisions of Title I, it affects a cross section of our conference based off of their experience and the stories they know from their constituents and their understanding of policy,” McHenry said. 

Conservatives argue that money for high-risk pools would subsidize coverage for people with pre-existing conditions if the regulations were waived. 

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) insisted he was holding out hope for a deal and said he is still negotiating. 

Responding to McHenry calling Freedom Caucus requests a “bridge too far,” Meadows replied: “Full repeal of ObamaCare may be a bridge too far. Anything less than that is not a bridge too far.”

McHenry called for coming up with other fixes to the legislation that leaders had to pull from the floor last month. 

“It’s a matter of members coming to terms with fixes to improve the bill so they can get to yes,” he said. 

“The pressure is on individual members to come to terms with the bill that’s on the floor.”

The Heritage Action call Wednesday attacking moderates was a sign that the blame game over the stalled talks is intensifying.

“Because we don’t have this done by the time we go home tomorrow, there’s going to be a blame game that will perpetuate itself over the next two weeks that’s going to make it much more challenging for the White House and the Speaker to bring us together,” said Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), a member of the GOP whip team. 

“But I also think when members go back home, they’re going to have an earful from everybody as to why they need to get this done.” 

Despite President Trump’s threat to “move on” from healthcare if a bill didn’t pass last month, Pence has been meeting with different factions in the House on ways to resurrect the legislation. 

But lawmakers said later that either the White House was offering different things to different groups in those meetings, or people were just hearing different things.  

The Freedom Caucus says Pence offered them waivers for essential health benefits, community rating and guaranteed issue. 

But Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), a member of the centrist Tuesday Group, said that in his meeting at the White House on Monday, they only discussed the waiver applying to essential health benefits, not to the rules for pre-existing conditions, which have long been one of the most popular aspects of ObamaCare. 

Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanSenate Dems warn they will block recess appointments Ryan: It's Trump's 'prerogative' to fire Sessions It's time to take a close look at how federal policies affect states MORE (R-Wis.) on Wednesday tamped down hope of a deal anytime soon.  

“We can keep working this for weeks now,” Ryan said. “We don’t have some kind of artificial deadline in front of us.”