By LINDSEY McPHERSON and REMA RAHMAN
“Sooner rather than later” — that’s the prevailing sentiment among House Republicans as to when their chamber should vote on a bill to partially repeal and replace the 2010 health care law if tweaks being discussed will move enough “no” votes to “yes.”
Talk of the House working through the Easter recess to get the bill done is overblown, members said, but they noted that if an agreement can be reached quickly, there remains a possibility the scheduled Thursday afternoon start of the two-week recess could get pushed back to accommodate a vote later this week.
“I think if we go away for two weeks, it’s less likely that we’re ultimately going to get it done,” said New York Rep. Chris Collins, an ardent supporter of President Donald Trump.
“To be frank, I believe some of the folks asking for more time are hard ‘noes’ and will never be ‘yes,’” he added. “They feel boxed in and they want to go home and say, ‘We’re doing regular order.’”
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Tuesday declined to put “an artificial deadline” on scheduling a vote. GOP leaders had originally set up a vote on the repeal and replace bill on March 23, the seven-year anniversary of the 2010 law. Lacking support, the vote was pushed forward a day until Ryan and Trump pulled it on March 24.
Members and the White House have talked since about changes. This week, administration officials proposed, as described by Republican lawmakers, providing states with the ability to get a waiver from regulations the GOP finds onerous.
Like Ryan, House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows did not want to talk about scheduling.
“I’m not setting any artificial deadlines,” the North Carolina Republican said. “Everybody’s willing to work around the clock to be ready to take a vote as quickly as they can but I would lower expectations for a vote this week — only just from a timing standpoint not from an issues standpoint.”
Meadows, upon leaving a meeting in the speaker’s office Tuesday, said the issue of going home for a two-week recess without members voting on a repeal and replace plan was being discussed but declined to offer details.
He said the changes being discussed — allowing Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to let states waive some essential health benefits and community ratings requirements — would make a bill more attractive.
“It’s really come down to the two issues that are paramount to probably every member of the GOP conference,” Meadows said.
However, some members’ positions remain unchanged. After the Tuesday Group was briefed on the suggested changes, Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, the group’s co-chairman, and Leonard Lance of New Jersey both said they remain opposed.
Ryan told reporters after the weekly GOP conference meeting Tuesday there was still no agreement but that “productive conversations” were happening at the “conceptual level” regarding how to lower insurance premiums while maintaining “solid protections for people.”
Pence has been “instrumental” in bringing together different groups from the GOP conference to talk about ideas for improving the bill, Ryan said, while cautioning that the House was not ready to move forward with a new vote.
“It’s important that we don’t just win the votes of one caucus or one group, but that we get the votes and the consensus of 216 of our members,” he said.
Pence was scheduled to meet Tuesday evening with leaders of the Tuesday Group, Republican Study Committee and the House Freedom Caucus, and leadership and relevant committee chairmen.
Rep. Joe L. Barton, a former chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees health care, said he’d be willing to hold off going home if it meant progress was made on the bill.
“We want to make sure we get this right and if that means we have to go beyond this week, we have to go beyond this week,” the Texas Republican said. “What that means, I don’t know.”