Priorities, priorities. Not enough progress has been made within the House Republican caucus to expect a vote on the stalled American Health Care Act in the near future, despite indications this week that a new compromise was imminent. Instead, Republicans will spend the next two weeks on their Easter recess.
How many of them will hold town halls during this fortnight? Over/under is … twenty:
Deep divisions cut short Republican hopes for a quick revival of Obamacare replacement legislation on Wednesday, as Congress prepared to leave town for a two-week recess without a deal to end party infighting.
“We are going to go home tomorrow without a deal,” Congressman Chris Collins, a Republican moderate in the U.S. House of Representatives, told reporters.
Remember that it only takes a majority for this package to pass in the House, where Republicans have a 44-seat majority. The real challenge was supposed to be in the Senate, with its narrow path through reconciliation for a simple majority and much of the ObamaCare replacement effort will need significant Democratic support. Despite having seven years since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, five months since the election, and three full months now after the start of the 115th Session of Congress, the GOP still can’t get enough of its own members on the same page for a simple majority.
Who’s fault is that? According to Heritage Action for America’s Michael Needham, it’s those dastardly moderates:
In a blistering call on Wednesday morning, Michael Needham, who leads Heritage Action for America — one of the most prominent outside groups that had been opposed to the AHCA — laid the blame for the latest stumbles at the feet of moderate House Republicans, who are part of a coalition known as the Tuesday Group.
According to Needham, the White House presented conservatives with a plan on Monday that they would have accepted. It would have allowed states to broadly waive Obamacare’s insurance reforms, such as the rule that prohibits health plans from charging sicker people more than healthy ones and minimum requirements for what health insurance must cover.
For the Freedom Caucus, this would have been a compromise: The infrastructure of Obamacare would stay in place, but states would have the chance to create an alternative — though under such an alternative, fewer people would likely be covered and sicker people could see higher costs. Nonetheless, that plan would have gotten upwards of 20 votes from the Freedom Caucus, Needham said, which would seem to get the bill close to the 216 votes it needs to clear the House. A Freedom Caucus aide confirmed the group saw that proposal as a positive step.
But moderates balked, according to Needham, and that has derailed the negotiations for now.
At least one White House ally in Congress disputes that report, however. Reuters spoke with Collins, who said conservatives keep shifting their demands despite efforts from the Trump administration to appease them:
A White House ally, Collins said days of negotiations have broken down over conservative demands to allow states to waive popular Obamacare policies that protect sick people from price discrimination and allow young adults to stay on their parents’ healthcare plans until age 26.
He said the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus was “moving the goal posts” for negotiations, risking potential support from moderate Republicans.
But wait! Club for Growth president David McIntosh says it’s the moderates after all:
David McIntosh, president of the conservative interest group Club for Growth, also accused moderates of torpedoing an emerging deal.
“The left wing among House Republicans doesn’t want to compromise or keep their pledge to voters to repeal Obamacare,” he said in a statement. “They’ve rejected deals that would give Americans more choices for cheaper health insurance, and now they won’t even allow states the chance to scale back Obamacare’s costliest regulations.”
Clearly, not much progress has been made even in respect to blamethrowing. New York Times Magazine writer Robert Draper suggests that this could get chalked up to growing pains for a party that hasn’t had to govern in a decade. Don’t expect that to change before the recess, though:
“He has a Republican majority in both the House and the Senate, and yet these guys are kind of out of practice when it comes to passing legislation,” Draper said. “There has never been a consensus formed on some of these major issues. Such as Obamacare; sure they all want to repeal it, but when it comes to what to replace it with, something that despite the fact they’ve had seven years to think this through, they never really coalesced around a particular plan.” …
“There is a flurry right now to see if they can get an Obamacare bill passed by Easter – I just don’t think it is possible,” he commented.
The problem is that this only gets more complicated the longer it stalls. Congress has to pass an omnibus spending bill to complete the FY2017 budget, and then the White House supposedly wants to move on to tax reform. That may take longer to resolve than the ObamaCare repeal, Paul Ryan told an audience in Washington today:
“The House has a (tax reform) plan but the Senate doesn’t quite have one yet. They’re working on one. The White House hasn’t nailed it down,” Ryan told an audience in Washington.
“So even the three entities aren’t on the same page yet on tax reform,” he added.
Ryan also assured people that there was no rush to pass ObamaCare repeal, claiming that “we can keep working this for weeks now.” Unfortunately, the tax reform push almost certainly has to come after the FY2017 budget resolution but before negotiations over the FY2018 budget bills, which are due by September 30th, and with most of August lost to the annual recess. That’s a small window to pass sweeping legislation even without ObamaCare repeal pushing into that part of the calendar.
Ryan had better hope the Easter recess resurrects Republican unity. Otherwise, the divisions threaten to leave egg on the collective face of the GOP — and leave Trump with a real mess instead of single-party governance in his first year.