Moderate Republicans, Dems huddle on healthcare

Moderate Republicans, Dems huddle on healthcare
© Greg Nash

Centrist House Republicans and Democrats huddled on Tuesday and discussed healthcare in the wake of the collapse of Senate GOP efforts to repeal ObamaCare, multiple sources told The Hill.

Members of the GOP’s Tuesday Group and the New Democrat Coalition met in the Capitol, part of a periodic gathering of the two moderate groups. But healthcare dominated the meeting, participants said.

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The meeting is part of the “preliminary” discussion taking place between centrists on both sides of the aisle following the implosion of Senate Republicans’ repeal-and-replace legislation, House lawmakers said.

No formal bipartisan working group on healthcare has been established, but it is one of the ideas being discussed at this early stage.

“I am for that. That’s all I will say,” Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.), a member of the Tuesday Group and bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, said of a possible working group.

“There are informal talks here and there. That’s the way to go,” added another centrist Republican, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida. “It’s just starting. It’s ongoing now.”

Still, some centrists in attendance were highly skeptical such a bipartisan plan could work, calling the “kumbaya” meeting a “waste of time.” And Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDemocrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate Krystal Ball touts Sanders odds in Texas MORE (R-Wis.) earlier Tuesday poured cold water on the idea of working with Democrats to fix the Affordable Care Act. 

But others seemed open to the prospect. 

“I certainly want to be involved in any bipartisan discussion,” said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), who co-chairs the Tuesday Group with Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.). “The question is does leadership want to engage in a bipartisan discussion on healthcare.”

Last week, hoping to break through the strict partisanship that’s governed the debate so far, a group of 10 Democrats –– representing both the New Democrats and the more conservative Blue Dogs –– proposed a series of specific policy fixes to ObamaCare. Among their proposed solutions was a suggestion to create a $15 billion reinsurance fund to help those who were hit with high premium and deductible costs.

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), who was among the Democrats endorsing those provisions, said she’s hopeful the collapse of the GOP repeal effort in the Senate will force Republicans to the negotiating table.

“We know what we have to do to fix it, let’s just do it. … My hope is that there finally is going to be an appetite for some real bipartisan fix here, because we know what we have to do.

“There’s nothing else that they can do,” she added.

Rice said Democrats are actively reaching out to GOP moderates in hopes of striking a deal.

“They agree, they want to get things fixed,” she said without naming names.  

Democratic leaders jumped head-first into the effort on Tuesday, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) penning a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in which she credited public opposition for the failure of “TrumpCare.”

“Now, Republicans must pivot and work in a bipartisan fashion to lower health costs, improve quality, and expand coverage, while strengthening the stability of the marketplaces,” she wrote.

Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio), a member of the moderate Tuesday Group, is urging colleagues to hold bipartisan hearings on health care — a step House Republicans skipped earlier this year in their rush to pass their repeal-and-replacement bill.

“We need to have hearings on what works, what doesn’t work and how best to make healthcare available in the most cost efficient way,” Joyce told The Hill. “We have health experts in this country who actually know what they’re talking about.”

Asked if he planned to join a possible bipartisan healthcare working group, Joyce said: “I’ll be part of anything that brings about solutions that are in the best interest of the American people.”

Peter Sullivan contributed.