Health talks dominate Ryan meeting

Greg Nash

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Tuesday afternoon hosted the leaders of the three major GOP caucuses as lawmakers try to work out a deal to resuscitate the Republican healthcare bill.

No agreement was made during the half-hour meeting in the Speaker’s office, but some participants emerged more optimistic about their chances to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

“I feel like we’re closer than we’ve ever been,” one GOP lawmaker who attended the meeting told The Hill.

{mosads}Ryan hosts leaders of the three House GOP caucuses — the centrist Tuesday Group, conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC) and far-right Freedom Caucus — on a weekly basis.  

But this week’s gathering included some special guests: President Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, sat in to observe, while Vice President Pence stopped by to thank lawmakers for continuing to work on the issue.

Other representatives at the meeting were Tuesday Group Co-chairs Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) and Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.); RSC Chairman Mark Walker (R-N.C.); Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and two other Freedom Caucus leaders, Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho).

Other GOP lawmakers who attended the meeting included Reps. Jackie Walorski (Ind.), Kristi Noem (S.D.), Richard Hudson (N.C.), Jeb Hensarling (Texas), Tom Graves (Ga.), Scott Perry (Pa.), Todd Rokita (Ind.) and Fred Upton (Mich.).

If a deal is struck between the White House and centrist and conservative holdouts, a vote could be held as soon as this week, the lawmaker said. But the clock is ticking: House lawmakers are slated to leave Washington on Thursday for a two-week spring recess.

The vice president and top White House officials are slated to meet Tuesday night on Capitol Hill with leaders of the Tuesday Group, RSC and Freedom Caucus,  as well as with key committee chairmen and House GOP leadership, Walker told reporters. 

Pence made a new offer to the Freedom Caucus Monday night that seeks to address some of the conservative group’s concerns. Pence’s proposal would hand states the power to choose whether to opt out of two ObamaCare regulations that conservatives argue are driving up premiums.

But the proposed changes risk turning off moderate Republicans whose votes the White House needs to hold their fragile coalition together.

“While we haven’t picked up any votes yet, this concept is already showing signs of losing a ton of them,” a senior House GOP source told The Hill.

Meadows reiterated during the closed-door gathering that his caucus needs to see the legislative text before making any decisions. That text could be sent to Capitol Hill as soon as Tuesday night.

“If something breaks tonight, we could vote Thursday,” the GOP lawmaker said. “They are getting numbers run by actuaries so we can see what the effects on premiums would be.”

Speaking to reporters after the Ryan meeting, Meadows said the Freedom Caucus will hold an emergency meeting Tuesday night if it receives legislative language in the next few hours.

The source in the meeting said the Speaker’s message to the group was simple: “Keep talking.”

Earlier in the day, Ryan told reporters the continuing negotiations were “productive” but tamped down expectations that Republicans could reach an agreement on a health bill and vote this week.

“We’re just at that conceptual stage about how to move forward in a way we can get everybody to 216 [votes]. …” Ryan said at a news conference. “It’s premature to say where we are or what we’re on because we’re at that conceptual stage.”

—Updated at 4:57 p.m.

Tags Paul Ryan Tom Graves

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