GOP Points Fingers at Each Other as Health Deal Prospects Fade

  • Republicans head home for two weeks, unable to deliver repeal
  • ‘I’m surprised we’ve been this incompetent,’ says GOP lawmaker

Let the blame game begin -- again -- with House Republicans saying Wednesday they still can’t reach a deal on reviving their health-care bill, likely delaying any chance of action until at least May.

"And this time, we’ll have two weeks to let this all fester," said Representative Dennis Ross of Florida, referring to the two-week recess that starts this weekend.

Rep. Dennis Ross

Photographer: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

The White House made another run at delivering on GOP promises to repeal and replace Obamacare, with Vice President Mike Pence spending Monday and Tuesday nights meeting with House lawmakers. But Republicans concede they still aren’t ready to vote, meaning that action is very unlikely this month.

As the depth of the stalemate became clear, the finger-pointing began. 

Representative Chris Collins of New York, a Trump ally, complained Wednesday that some members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus were "moving the goalposts again." That group had earlier been targeted by even President Donald Trump for being instrumental in preventing a deal two weeks ago.

Collins said some conservatives insist on giving states more waivers to Obamacare’s requirements for covering essential health benefits, and that if incorporated into a bill, "You would lose 75 percent of our conference with that."

No Compromises

Several outside conservative groups said the fault lies with moderates who backed away from a conservative priority.

“The left wing among House Republicans doesn’t want to compromise or keep their pledge to voters to repeal Obamacare,” Club for Growth president David McIntosh said in a statement. "This is big-government liberalism at work among House Republicans and Speaker Ryan is letting them run his conference."
 
The leader of another conservative group, Mike Needham of Heritage Action for America, said moderates should use the two-week recess and take time to "understand conservative health-care policy, and they should come back and pass" a bill reflecting that.

At least one House Republican, Representative Steve Chabot of Ohio, said lawmakers have nobody to blame but themselves.

‘This Incompetent’

"I’m surprised we’ve been this incompetent," said Chabot, of the House Republicans’ continued inability to reach a deal.

The White House’s effort to bring the House Freedom Caucus on board was unable to bridge the significant gaps remaining between conservatives and moderates over the shape of a replacement plan for Obamacare. GOP leaders conceded that they likely can’t pull off a vote this week.

Rep. Steve Scalise

Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

"Very unlikely," declared Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy also said that getting to a vote by Thursday "will be tough."

Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin had already been trying to inoculate himself from blame by staying clear of making any predictions about a deal. He was stung by criticism two weeks ago when he and Trump unexpectedly scrapped a vote on an earlier version after falling short of GOP support.

‘Frogs in the Wheelbarrow’

“I call it keeping the frogs in the wheelbarrow” said Ryan on Wednesday, of getting the House Republican conference behind a unified bill.

Ross said lawmakers now will return to their home districts and face questions from constituents telling them, "What they should have done, and asking why they didn’t do it -- and what you better do when you get back."

"There will be more town halls, more blame, pointing fingers at everybody," said Ross, a senior member of the House Republican vote-counting team. 

Ross added, "This is where we have to be careful, because I think they are close -- moderates, Freedom Caucus, leadership -- conceptually, in reaching a deal."

Pre-Existing Conditions

House Republican chief deputy whip Patrick McHenry said the conference simply wouldn’t unite around some possible changes that could weaken key pre-existing condition mandates in the Affordable Care Act.

Rep. Pat McHenry

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

"My family history is really bad. And so my understanding of the impact of insurance regs is real," McHenry said. "I’m a conservative. So I look at this, understand the impact of regulation, but also the impact of really bad practices in the insurance marketplace prior to the ACA passing."

Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said he was still optimistic that "everyone is working in good faith." But he also said everyone needed to "set realistic expectations" of what the House needs to do to lower health-care costs and premiums.

— With assistance by Sahil Kapur

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