CAPITOL HILL – Time wasn’t on Republicans’ side last week in the House of Representatives, as even delaying the vote for the Obamacare repeal legislation didn’t provide enough hours for leaders to whip up votes in favor of the legislation.
After moving out of four House committees with various amendments, the American Health Care Act (AHCA) – which would have repealed provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also called Obamacare – was scheduled for a vote March 23 in the House. However, that vote was pushed back to Friday. At approximately 3:30 p.m. March 24, House Republicans announced that the House was in recess. The bill was withdrawn moments later.
“I will not sugar coat this: this is a disappointing day for us. Doing big things is hard,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.-1) at a press conference. “All of us, myself included, we will need time to reflect on how we got to this moment, what we could have done to do it better.”
Ryan, the leader of the House Republicans, led the push for AHCA, which would have eliminated the individual mandate for people to purchase insurance, the requirement for many employers to provide insurance coverage and the medical device tax while keeping in place protections for those with pre-existing conditions (in a modified form) and provisions allowing young adults to remain on their parents plan until age 26. However, conservative members of the party, led by the House Freedom Caucus, staunchly opposed the AHCA because they believed it did not go far enough. With some moderate Republicans also bucking the leadership, and all the House Democrats opposed to the bill, it did not have enough votes to pass.
“This is a setback. No two ways about it. But it is not the end of this story,” 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?”
The failure of Ryan and his allies to muster enough votes was foreshadowed Thursday, when the AHCA vote was originally scheduled. Although Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House deputy press secretary, said the delay was due to the administration’s belief that “this should be done in the light of day, not in the wee hours of the night,” media reports consistently indicated the lack of votes was the real reason.
Democratic leaders, such as Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.-5), greeted the bill’s withdrawal with joy.
“It went down today because the majority of the representatives of the American people in the House of Representatives thought this was a bad bill. It went in the wrong direction,” he said at a press conference. “This is a good day for the American people.”
Hoyer said the bill would have resulted in 24 million Americans losing health insurance, higher costs for seniors and higher premiums. The claims are supported by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), although that office did note that although premiums would initially rise, by 2026, they would be below current levels on average.
The CBO also said that the committee amendments would result in “smaller savings over the next 10 years” than in the original bill. The new version “would reduce federal deficits by $150 billion over the 2017-2026 period,” as opposed to a $337 billion reduction in deficits in the pre-amendment version, according to documents posted on the CBO website.
Prince George’s County’s other representative in Congress, Anthony Brown (D-Md. 4), also opposed the AHCA and lauded its withdrawal.
“I am proud to have stood against this disastrous bill from Day 1,” he said in a statement. “This victory belongs to the millions of Americans, including many in my district, who organized, mobilized and made their voices heard.”
Brown added that the work on improving healthcare is not over.
“Just as we worked together to strengthen and improve Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, I hope we can do more to lower costs and increase coverage in our healthcare system,” he said.
“We cannot abandon that effort to make sure that every American has healthcare security at lower cost and better quality. That was our intent with the Affordable Care Act. We think we’ve come a long way in accomplishing that objective, but we can do more and we ought to,” he said.
Ryan said the Republican side is not done working on this issue, either.
“I know that every man and woman in this conference is now motivated more than ever to step up our game, to deliver on our promises. I know that everyone is committed to seizing this incredible opportunity that we have,” he said.