Trump tastes failure as U.S. House
healthcare bill collapses
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[March 25, 2017]
By David Lawder and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald
Trump suffered a stunning political setback on Friday in a Congress
controlled by his own party when Republican leaders pulled legislation
to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system, a major 2016 election campaign
promise of the president and his allies.
House of Representatives leaders yanked the bill after a rebellion by
Republican moderates and the party's most conservative lawmakers left
them short of votes, ensuring that Trump's first major legislative
initiative since taking office on Jan. 20 ended in failure. Democrats
were unified against it.
House Republicans had planned a vote on the measure after Trump late on
Thursday cut off negotiations with Republicans who had balked at the
plan and issued an ultimatum to vote on Friday, win or lose. But
desperate lobbying by the White House and Republican House Speaker Paul
Ryan was unable to round up the 216 votes needed for passage.
"We learned a lot about loyalty. We learned a lot about the vote-getting
process," Trump told reporters at the White House, although he sought to
shift the blame to the Democrats even though his party controls the
White House, the House and the Senate.
With Friday's legislative collapse, Democratic former President Barack
Obama's signature domestic policy achievement, the 2010 Affordable Care
Act - known as Obamacare - remains in place despite seven years of
Republican promises to dismantle it.
The healthcare failure called into question not only Trump's ability to
get other key parts of his agenda, including tax cuts and a boost in
infrastructure spending, through Congress, but the Republican Party's
capacity to govern effectively.
Neither Trump nor Ryan indicated any plans to try to tackle healthcare
legislation again anytime soon. Trump said he would turn his attention
to getting "big tax cuts" through Congress, another tricky proposition.
Republican supporters said the legislation would achieve their goal of
rolling back the government's "nanny state" role in healthcare. The
White House made undoing Obamacare its top priority when Trump took
office two months ago.
But the White House and House leaders were unable to come up with a plan
that satisfied the clashing interests of moderates and conservatives,
despite Trump's vaunted image as a deal maker.
Amid a chaotic scramble for votes, Ryan, who championed the bill, met
with Trump at the White House. Ryan said he recommended that it be
withdrawn from the House floor because he did not have the votes to pass
it, and Trump agreed.
"We were just probably anywhere from 10 to 15 votes short," Trump said.
"With no Democrat support we couldn't quite get there."
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said the bill failed "because of
two traits that have plagued the Trump presidency since he took office:
incompetence and broken promises."
Democrats said the bill would take away medical insurance from millions
of Americans and leave the more-than-$3 trillion U.S. healthcare system
And some moderate Republicans opposed the bill because of worries that
millions of America would be hurt.
"There were things in this bill that I didn't particularly like," Trump
added, without specifying what those were, but expressed confidence in
"Perhaps the best thing that could happen is exactly what happened
today, because we'll end up with a truly great healthcare bill in the
future after this mess known as Obamacare explodes," said Trump, who had
posted multiple tweets throughout March proclaiming that "Obamacare is
imploding" and repeatedly saying that Republicans were coming together
to pass the bill.
Friday's events cast doubt on whether Ryan can get major legislation
approved by fractious Republican lawmakers.
"I will not sugarcoat this. This is a disappointing day for us. Doing
big things is hard," Ryan said at a news conference, adding that his
fellow Republicans are experiencing what he called "growing pains"
transitioning from an opposition party to a governing party.
"Obamacare's the law of the land," Ryan added. "We're going to be living
with Obamacare for the foreseeable future."
"A LITTLE SURPRISED"
Members of the Freedom Caucus, the House's most conservative members,
were instrumental in the bill's failure, opposing it among other reasons
because they considered parts too similar to Obamacare.
Trump said he was disappointed and "a little surprised" with the Freedom
[to top of second column]
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) holds a news conference after
Republicans pulled the American Health Care Act bill to repeal and
replace the Affordable Care Act act known as Obamacare, prior to a
vote at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, March 24, 2017.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said under the Republican
legislation 14 million people would lose medical coverage by next year
and more than 24 million would be uninsured in 2026.
News that the bill had been pulled before a final vote was greeted
initially with a small sigh of relief by U.S. equity investors, who
earlier in the week had been fretful that an outright defeat would
damage Trump's other priorities, such as tax cuts and infrastructure
spending. Benchmark U.S. stock market indexes ended the session mixed
after rallying back from session lows following the news. The S&P 500
Index ended fractionally lower, the blue chip Dow Jones Industrial
Average slipped about 0.3 percent and the Nasdaq Composite Index rose
about 0.2 percent.
Shares of hospital operators finished sharply higher, with the S&P
healthcare facilities index up 2.7 percent, while the S&P 500 healthcare
sector edged down 0.03 percent. The dollar strengthened modestly on the
news, and U.S. Treasury bond yields edged up from session lows.
Trump said he would be "totally open" to working with Democrats on
healthcare "when they all become civilized." House Democratic leader
Nancy Pelosi said working to lower prescription drug prices was one area
of possible cooperation with Republicans.
Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher said before the bill was
pulled that voting it down would be "neutering Trump" while empowering
"You don't cut the balls off a bull and then expect that he can go out
and get the job done," Rohrabacher told Reuters. "This will emasculate
Trump and we can't do that. ... If we bring this down now, Trump will
have lost all of his leverage to pass whatever bill it is, whether it's
the tax bill or whatever reforms that he wants."
Representative Joe Barton of Texas, when asked why his fellow
Republicans were so united over the past seven years to dump Obamacare
only to fall apart when they actually do something about it, said,
"Sometimes you're playing fantasy football and sometimes you’re in the
Obamacare boosted the number of Americans with health insurance through
mandates on individuals and employers, and income-based subsidies. About
20 million Americans gained insurance coverage through the law.
The House plan would have rescinded a range of taxes created by
Obamacare, ended a penalty on people who refuse to obtain health
insurance, and ended Obamacare's income-based subsidies to help people
buy insurance while creating less-generous age-based tax credits
It also would have ended Obamacare's expansion of the Medicaid
state-federal insurance program for the poor, cut future federal
Medicaid funding and let states impose work requirements on some
House leaders agreed to a series of last-minute changes to try to win
over disgruntled conservatives, including ending the Obamacare
requirement that insurers cover certain "essential benefits" such as
maternity care, mental health services and prescription drug coverage.
Click on the links below for related graphics:
Graphic on Obamacare and Republican healthcare bill
Graphic on poll on Americans' views of the Republican healthcare bill
(Additional reporting by Dustin Volz, David Morgan, David Lawder, Susan
Cornwell, Susan Heavey, Richard Cowan, Steve Holland, Roberta Rampton,
Patricia Zengerle and Doina Chiacu; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by
Bill Rigby and Leslie Adler)
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