Faced with an intransigent group of conservative Republicans, House Speaker Paul Ryan on Friday abandoned GOP dreams of scrapping the health law signed by President Barack Obama and there appeared little chance that the effort will soon be revived.
With moderate Republicans blaming about 30 conservatives known as the Freedom Caucus for scuttling the bill, House GOP leaders faced the grim reality that they will not keep their seven-year promise to repeal the 2010 law known as Obamacare.
It marked a stunning defeat for Ryan and President Donald Trump.
“I will not sugarcoat this,” Ryan said after deciding to end efforts to overhaul the nation’s health care system. “This is a disappointing day for us. Doing big things is hard.”
But in a hint of his frustration with GOP conservatives such as Rep. Jim Jordan of Urbana, Ryan said, “Ultimately this all kind of comes down to a choice: Are all of us willing to give a little to get something done? Are we willing to say yes to the good, to the very good, even if it’s not the perfect?”
Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Upper Arlington, said the focus now will be on fixing the existing health law.
“I think we lost an opportunity here to reach out to moderate Democrats and say what can we do to get your votes? And I believe that is and should be something we try to do and start to do,” Stivers said. “Because in some cases, their votes are easier to get then some of the members of our Freedom Caucus.”
Overhauling Obamacare was never going to be easy. Even though Republicans control the House by a margin of 237 to 193, Ryan needed the support of Jordan and his conservative allies to pass the bill. And it quickly became apparent that while Jordan wanted to scrap Obamacare, he sharply opposed the GOP alternative as well.
Things started to quickly unravel. As Ryan appeased the conservatives with concessions, he began losing the votes of moderate Republicans such as Rep. David Joyce, a University of Dayton graduate who lives in Russell Twp. in Geauga County. At one point, a GOP source said, as many as 47 Republicans opposed the bill.
Polls showing just 17 percent of the American public favored the House GOP bill didn’t help either. In essence, Ryan and Trump were asking Republican House members to support a measure most of their constituents were unhappy with.
After the bill was scrapped, Jordan said repealing Obamacare “remains one of my top priorities.” But Ryan made it clear that the 2010 law will remain in effect, impervious to GOP efforts to scrap it.
“There is a bloc of ‘no’ votes that we had; that is why this didn’t pass,” said Ryan, who graduated from Miami University in Ohio. “There were a sufficient number of members that prevented it from passing and they didn’t change their votes.”
The decision to pull the bill capped a dramatic week in which Trump repeatedly tried to woo conservatives and Vice President Mike Pence was a near-constant presence on Capitol Hill. On Thursday, Trump issued an ultimatum: The House would vote Friday and if the bill failed, he was done with health care.
But it was Trump who told Ryan to pull the bill Friday after the speaker informed him he didn’t have the votes. Ryan huddled with GOP lawmakers in a room in the bowels of the Capitol where arriving members were greeted by the Rolling Stones classic “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
“Because of the lack of votes today in the House, Obamacare is going to be the law of the land,” Columbus area Republican Rep. Pat Tiberi said. “I think for conservatives it’s not a good day when (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi calls it a victory.”
In all, four Republicans from Ohio either opposed or were leaning toward opposing the bill: Jordan, Joyce, Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy; and Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton.
“After numerous discussions with the White House and the Speaker’s office, in an attempt to improve this bill, including discussions today, I could not support the bill in its current form,” Turner said Friday. “This legislation will result in people in my community losing health care coverage.”
Davidson, who serves the district long occupied by former Speaker John Boehner, said he isn’t ready to give up on finding a suitable replacement for a law many in his district despise.
“Can we pick up from where we’re at, put a white board in a room, begin collaborating with those people that started falling off the left or the right and make this something that can pass? I guess I’m optimistic,” he said. “I’ve always been optimistic that this has been possible. But I’m new to Congress, so I don’t know.”
Since passage of Obamacare, Republicans have complained the law did nothing to control the rise in premiums in the individual insurance market while burdening taxpayers with hundreds of billions of dollars to expand eligibility to Medicaid, the federal-state program that provides health coverage to low-income and disabled Americans.
One of the major demands by conservatives was to eliminate an Obamacare requirement that required private insurers in the individual market to provide a minimum package of benefits, including ambulance services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, and treatment for mental health and substance abuse.
Conservatives have argued that such a mandate drives up the cost of health care and prevents insurance companies from offering a wider range of policies in the individual market. Defenders of the mandate say it prevents insurance companies from offering middle-income people policies that provide skimpy coverage.
As a compromise, Ryan suggested allowing the states — not the federal government — to establish a minimum package of benefits.
Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Cincinnati, said Friday that nothing would have been gained by bringing the legislation to a floor vote “and having it go up in flames.
“It’s possible they can continue to work on the votes,” he said but added: “It’s going to be challenging.”
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