House Panels to Take Up Obamacare Replacement Measure Next Week

  • House Republicans aim to get bill to Trump’s desk by Easter
  • Lawmakers reviewing latest proposal in reading room secrecy

U.S. House committees plan to begin considering legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare next week, Republicans said Thursday after a closed-door meeting.

Speaker Paul Ryan told lawmakers that the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Ways and Means Committee will begin debating the measure, which has so far been kept under wraps, with the goal of sending a bill to the Senate within three weeks, according to several Republicans who attended the meeting.

“He said he hopes to get a bill to the president’s desk by Easter,” said Representative Glenn Thompson, a Pennsylvania Republican. The holiday falls on April 16. “Of course, the Senate could be a problem.”

House Republicans were allowed to review the latest version of the overhaul measure Thursday -- but only in a dedicated reading room, and they weren’t given copies to take with them, said one Republican lawmaker and a committee aide. The reason for the secrecy was to avoid leaks of the proposal.

’Classified’ Proposal

The unusual procedure is a reflection of the sensitivity -- and the stakes -- surrounding the GOP effort to rewrite the Affordable Care Act, a top priority of President Donald Trump, who has yet to offer his own plan.

Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky objected to the secrecy.

“I’m very upset that they made the Obamacare proposal classified,” he said in an interview. “It’s under lock and key, and we’re not allowed to have a copy of it. I think that’s crazy.” He said he thought the reason House Republicans were keeping the bill secret “is that it’s Obamacare lite” instead of the full repeal sought by many conservatives.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California told reporters that Republicans are “hiding” the bill because they “know how the American people will react.”

QuickTake on why repealing Obamacare is harder than it sounds

Representative Mark Walker of Alabama said Ryan told fellow Republicans the Ways and Means Committee will be looking for solutions on three issues: the tax exemption for employer-provided insurance, Medicaid expansion, and refundable tax credits to help people buy health insurance.

Making the credits refundable would provide money to Americans who earn too little to owe federal taxes. Many conservatives oppose the idea, saying it would essentially create a new entitlement.

‘Continuous Pressure’

“There’s going to be continuous pressure for us to bid that number up in ongoing years,” Republican Dave Brat of Virginia said in an interview Thursday,

Trump backed the use of tax credits in his first major address to Congress on Tuesday night, though he didn’t say whether they should be refundable to people who earn too little to pay federal income tax.

Republicans are “working very closely with the Trump administration” on the plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, Ryan told reporters Thursday at his weekly media briefing.

Ways and Means Committee member Tom Reed of New York said the panel is “very committed” to holding the meetings next week. He said Ryan told members the panel will be working through the weekend to resolve any concerns before considering the legislation.

— With assistance by Billy House, Arit John, Anna Edgerton, and Erik Wasson

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