With lawmakers in Congress ready to leave town for an extended Easter break at the end of this week, there was renewed urgency among Republicans and the White House today to find a way to strike a deal on a health care overhaul bill, in a bid to revive a GOP plan that ran aground last month in the House.
"There are ongoing talks that we are having," said House Speaker Paul Ryan after a morning closed door meeting with fellow Republicans, as he expressed hope for progress.
"We don't have a bill text or an agreement yet, but this is the kind of conversations that we want," the Speaker told reporters.
More meetings were planned for later today, as rank and file Republicans indicated that there was some momentum afoot.
"The President is still engaged, the Vice President is engaged, the Speaker is engaged," said Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA). "Hopefully people will negotiate in good faith."
"I think we're moving," said Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA), a member of the House Freedom Caucus, which has pushed for changes in the GOP plan.
"We just needed to have these conversations earlier," Brat said in a basement hallway crowded with reporters.
The proposed GOP changes center around two plans:
+ States would be allowed to apply for waivers to change the "Essential Health Benefits" in the Obama health law, which would be required in health insurance plans being sold to consumers. Backers say that would mean the ability to sell less expensive coverage plans.
+ States would also be allowed to seek an exemption from what is known as "community rating" - which would allow insurance companies to get around the requirement in the Obama health law that people with pre-existing medical conditions be charged the same as healthy people.
"Some states would get it right, allowing other states to copy the successful states," said Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who has pressed the Trump White House to fully repeal Obamacare, and not tinker around the edges.
"When you have the federal government with a top down mandate, it's either it all right, or all wrong, or somewhere in between," Brooks told reporters.
Republicans acknowledged that by making these changes - which are more welcomed by conservatives in the Freedom Caucus - that it might then cause political heartburn for more moderate Republicans.
"It has the potential to gain votes and lose votes," said Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), the head of the influential Republican Study Committee.
And it was clear that some Republicans weren't sold on what they had heard about the new plan.
"I remain a NO," tweeted Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ).
But behind the scenes, there was also some obvious outreach going on to bring other Republicans on board, like Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL), who wants provisions in the bill dealing with how Medicaid reimburses for nursing home beds - a big deal in his home state of Florida.
"I think there's a lot of movement," said Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL). "There are several good proposals out there."
Webster said he had met last night with Speaker Ryan about his nursing home bed issue; a similar chat did not produce any results back in March, when the GOP bill foundered in the House - Webster said he hoped this time it would be different.
"Another day, another step," Webster said with a broad grin.
As for when a plan might be voted on, while some conservatives liked that negotiations were still on going, they did not want to go too fast.
I think it would be a mistake to rush it," said Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID).
"We want to see it before we pass it," said Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN).
Congress is scheduled to leave town this Friday; the House and Senate would not return to legislative session in Washington until the week of April 24.
"We'll see what they sort through," said Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), who was not expecting action on health care this week.
"It sounds like I'm going home to have town meetings for a couple of weeks - and that's a good thing."
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