Alternative headline: Tough to handicap golf diplomacy. After some hopeful signs and conversations between the White House and moderate and conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill, it seemed a breakthrough on an ObamaCare repeal-and-replace plan was imminent. House Speaker Paul Ryan threw a bucket of cool water on that speculation earlier today, and so did a number of the participants in the talks:
In remarks to reporters after a closed meeting with fellow House Republicans, Ryan said the renewed healthcare effort, following last month’s failure to repeal and replace Obamacare, was simply in the “conceptual stage right now.”
He refused to give a time line for having a bill on the House floor, and Congress is set to begin a two-week recess at the end of this week. “We don’t have a bill text or an agreement yet, but this is the kind of conversations we want,” Ryan said.
Just the fact that the discussions are taking place at all merits some interest. After all, Donald Trump made it very plain that he blamed the House Freedom Caucus for blocking the American Health Care Act, and that he would move on to tax reform and leave them holding the bag for ObamaCare’s survival. According to Reuters, that turned out to be less than truthful, and that the AHCA still remains at the top of the White House’s legislative agenda.
Perhaps the assignment of blame wasn’t quite accurate, either. Politico’s reporting team hears that the White House took over the talks out of frustration with Ryan:
A senior administration official emphasized that inside the White House, expectations aren’t high for a deal before the Easter recess. This person said many White House officials are disappointed with Ryan’s outreach to Republicans during the last go-around, adding, the “White House is taking the lead this time.” Ryan aides haven’t been made aware of every conversation the White House is having on the bill, two people familiar with the discussions say.
Another White House official said “everyone is cautious” given the last debacle, and that no bill has been written. But this person said the administration has been heartened that a number of the conservative groups — like Heritage Foundation and Americans for Prosperity — have returned to the table for discussions, and some of the conservative members seem more “willing to at least have real talks.”
It’s tough to believe that Ryan would get that far out of the loop, however. Let’s not forget that the talks ended with HFC chair Mark Meadows praising Ryan’s effort, if not the version of the bill it produced, while it was the White House that took potshots at Meadows & Co. If Heritage and AFP have jumped back into the conversation, it’s not because of their intimate friendship with Trump. That would be Ryan’s doing, or at least in concert with Reince Priebus, who also works closely with Ryan. Politico’s source seems to be spinning this one for the boss — which might in itself give a more optimistic sense of progress, in that Trump won’t want to get stuck with the blame if this effort falls apart, too.
With all the focus on wooing the conservatives, it’s still not clear that there’s much room to give without losing the moderates. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) says he’s still opposed to the bill:
I have seen nothing in terms of reported possible changes to American Health Care Act warranting reconsideration. I remain a NO. Frank https://t.co/jTWfqzBXd7
— Frank LoBiondo (@FrankLoBiondoNJ) April 4, 2017
It still seems that a real intraparty consensus is eluding both Ryan and the White House. Even Rand Paul — who hinted that a deal was coming after playing golf with Trump on Sunday — seemed more cynical today:
Sen. Rand Paul on healthcare talks with Trump over golf: "I think they still think they can pound a square peg in a round hole." (MSNBC)
— David Wright (@DavidWright_7) April 4, 2017
It’s tougher to do that than to drop a round ball into a round hole — a lesson that the White House may be learning with Paul.
Addendum: This Axios report sounds a lot more pessimistic than even some of the above:
Attempts to reach a deal this week on health care are unraveling fast, with conservatives already blaming House Speaker Paul Ryan for blocking the White House bill, and leadership sources saying that’s nonsense and that the Freedom Caucus is making unreasonable demands that are losing net votes.
And this sounds downright disastrous:
From a senior Republican source:”While we haven’t picked up any votes yet, this concept shows signs of losing a ton of them.