WASHINGTON – Divided House Republicans on Friday abruptly canceled a vote on replacing the Affordable Care Act, acknowledging they lack enough support to replace the controversial health care law approved by Congress seven years ago.
With the conservative Freedom Caucus in revolt – including Rep. Steve Pearce of New Mexico – House Speaker Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump were forced to concede a humiliating defeat of their health care legislation late Friday afternoon.
Trump, who made repealing Obamacare a hallmark of his presidential campaign last year, had urged Ryan to move ahead with the vote late Thursday, despite objections to the bill by conservative Republicans.
But when it became apparent the GOP did not have enough support to pass the legislation Friday afternoon, Ryan went to the White House to deliver Trump the bad news, and the new president agreed with Ryan’s decision to pull the bill from consideration.
Trump campaigned as a master deal-maker and claimed that he alone could fix the nation’s health care system. But on Friday, Republican lawmakers made clear they answer to their own constituents, not to the president.
At the White House, an unusually subdued Trump said the bill went down by “a very, very tight margin” and blamed a lack of Democratic support for its failure.
“With no Democrat support, we couldn’t quite get there,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “We learned about loyalty, we learned a lot about the vote-getting process.”
Not one House Democrat supported the Republican bill Friday, arguing that it would cause millions of Americans to lose their health insurance. The Obama administration law was approved in 2010 with no Republican votes.
At the Capitol on Friday afternoon, Ryan said the defeat hurt.
“We came really close today, but we came up short,” Ryan told reporters shortly after the Republican bill was pulled.
“I will not sugarcoat it – this is a disappointing day for us,” Ryan added.
At the White House, Trump predicted that problems with the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, including high premiums and dwindling participation by insurers, would escalate in the coming year and lead to its eventual demise.
“I’ve been saying for the last year and a half that the best thing we can do, politically speaking, is let Obamacare explode – it’s exploding right now,” Trump said. “I think the losers are (House Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi and (Senate Minority Leader) Chuck Schumer, because they own Obamacare.”
Although Trump said he would be “totally open” to negotiating a different health care bill with Republicans and Democrats, he declared that the White House would shift its attention to tax reform.
He also declared his continued support for Ryan, although some calls for the House speaker’s ouster were already percolating in the right-wing media.
“I like Speaker Ryan; he worked very hard,” Trump said.
Pearce – the New Mexico delegation’s lone Republican – told the Journal this week that he was leaning against supporting the Ryan bill. After the bill was withdrawn Friday, he said he was “disappointed” that Republicans failed to replace Obamacare.
“I am disappointed that we were unable to get to an agreement this week on a plan that would bring affordability and accessibility back to health care marketplaces in the state of New Mexico and around the nation,” Pearce said. “More than anything, I wanted us to come to an agreement on a replacement plan that would protect the most vulnerable in New Mexico, while returning choice and affordability to middle-class families and the working class.”
Although the Ryan-Trump bill died in the House Friday, it would have faced even tougher sledding in the Senate, where as many as a dozen moderate Republicans had voiced problems with it.
“This isn’t a time to gloat,” said U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M. “It’s time to get to work, because Republicans have played politics for the past seven years instead of putting consumers, patients and families first. Maybe now they will work in earnest with Democrats to do the right thing for American families.”