GOP revival of healthcare repeal makes little progress

House Republicans insist they aren’t leaving for dead their effort to repeal ObamaCare.

But days after failing to move the American Health Care Act forward, there are no discernible signs of progress in bridging the differences within the Republican conference that led to an embarrassing retreat last week.

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Some centrist GOP lawmakers are pushing back on reviving the House bill, which GOP leaders and President Trump moved to the right in a bid to win over the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

Some say they want to begin working with Democrats to reform the healthcare law instead of trying to find votes from conservatives who want to see a repeal of ObamaCare’s insurer regulations and requirements. 

“I want to get this right. I am all for negotiating with people who want to get to a solution that can get signed into law, but engaging in a partisan-only exercise, I think we just demonstrated, is not going to work to make this reform sustainable and durable,” Rep. Charlie Dent (Pa.), a co-chairman of the centrist Tuesday Group, told CNN Wednesday. 

Rep. Mark AmodeiMark Eugene AmodeiRevitalize our defense industrial base with mine permitting reform To reduce China's leverage, rebuild America's minerals supply chain GOP staves off immigration revolt — for now MORE (R-Nev.), another centrist “no” vote on last week’s bill, said he does not oppose revisiting repeal of former President Obama’s healthcare law, but not “if it’s just kind of the same thing warmed up.”

“Just, hey, we’ve all had a come-to-Jesus thing, and we’re going to try it again?” he said. “There needs to be some substantive change.”

Amodei says he wants a “real hearing process” with witnesses, which was missing from the speedy path of the bill from introduction to the planned vote last week. 

Conservatives, however, are showing little interest in moving toward the Tuesday Group.

Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), a Freedom Caucus member, said he is happy to revisit healthcare — but only if the same changes demanded by conservatives last week are added to the bill.

The Freedom Caucus wants repeal of ObamaCare insurance regulations that they say drive up premiums. But moderates are wary of repealing those protections, and it is in doubt whether they even could be repealed under Senate rules. 

Those regulations include ObamaCare’s “essential health benefits,” which require insurance plans to cover services like mental health and prescription drugs, and “community rating,” which prevents insurers from charging sick people higher rates. 

“We all want to get to yes. Once we get a package that reduces prices and premiums, that’s it,” Brat said. “There’s no mystery to what we’ve got to get done. The current bill has prices going up, and we’ve got to get prices to go down, and it’s that simple.”

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said Wednesday there are no plans for a full-scale meeting between his conservative caucus and the centrist Tuesday Group.   

Meadows said he has been having one-on-one conversations with lawmakers, including Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), another co-chairman of the Tuesday Group. 

He insisted it is “too early to tell” if there has been any progress.

“To suggest that the healthcare debate is over is premature,” he said Wednesday. 

Yet the lack of meetings between the two groups that would need to bridge the GOP’s divide — and the different messages from its various members — suggests little hope of progress.

The White House also does not appear overly interested in returning to the healthcare fight.

While Meadows said he has spoken to White House officials, he said “it’s more a House-driven initiative than a White House-driven initiative.”

“They’ve taken the position that this is ... they’ve finished their negotiations; it’s incumbent upon us,” he said. 

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a longtime lawmaker close to leadership, suggested that if Republicans really have a chance at a quick turnaround on ObamaCare repeal, the Easter recess will be shortened. He said that is a real possibility.

“To me, the tell-tale sign will be if either we see something next week or all the sudden they reduce the Easter break, which I think is a real possibility because I think people want to get something done if it’s at all possible,” he said.

Aside from Cole’s comments, however, there was little talk of reducing or eliminating the Easter recess.

Members of both wings of the party said there is a widespread reluctance on the part of lawmakers to give up on Republican promises to repeal ObamaCare that have existed since the dawn of the law itself. But some also acknowledged the difficulty in getting anything done.

Rep. Dan Donovan (R-N.Y.), a moderate who opposed last week’s bill, said he does not want to give up on the healthcare issue. 

“We can’t just ignore the fact that our healthcare system needs to be repaired and we made a promise to the American people we’d repair it,” he said. “I was just a believer that the proposal last week wasn’t the solution.”