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White House Pumps Brakes on Obamacare Replacement

Ryan looks to reframe pace set by Trump

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, left, seen here with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, hopes to have replacement legislation for the health care law done by the end of the year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, left, seen here with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, hopes to have replacement legislation for the health care law done by the end of the year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The White House appears to be changing its diagnosis for President Donald Trump signing into law a measure that would replace the 2010 health care law with a Republican-crafted plan.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday would not guarantee that Trump would sign legislation putting in place a GOP-crafted alternative to the health care law this year, saying instead that the president is “optimistic” that will happen.

Spicer told reporters that White House officials are working with lawmakers and aides to come up with a replacement plan. He seemed to put his foot on the brake when he stressed that any GOP replacement package would be crafted at a “responsible” pace so people’s health care is “preserved.”

That is a change in tone from an administration that spent its first 14 days in office churning out executive directives, policy demands and international threats at breakneck speed.

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Trump himself, since taking the oath of office on Jan. 20, has talked about his desire to replace the health care law as quickly as possible, even saying it would be politically smarter for Republicans to allow the law to collapse this year. Doing so, he said, would be disastrous for Democrats, and give the GOP an easier sales pitch to the American people.

Even more than politics, it appears the complexities of both the health care law and of writing a bill that will give Republicans ownership of the U.S. health system have hit home since Inauguration Day.

“[It’s] very complicated — Obamacare is a disaster. You have to remember, Obamacare doesn’t work so we are putting in a wonderful plan,” Trump told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly in an interview that aired before the Super Bowl and continued airing in parts on Monday night.

“It statutorily takes a while to get,” Trump said, appearing to lower expectations for a speedy repeal-and-replace process. “We’re going to be putting it in fairly soon, I think that — yes, I would like to say by the end of the year, at least the rudiments but we should have something within the year and the following year.”

Over at the Capitol, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Tuesday the president’s remarks referred to the time necessary to implement the replacement measures. Ryan reiterated his stance that Congress would complete its work on repealing and replacing the health care law in 2017. 

“There’s a little confusion here. The legislating is going to be done this year. We are going to be done legislating with respect to health care and Obamacare this year,” Ryan told reporters. “The question is how long does it take to implement the full replacement of Obamacare.”

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Trump’s interview was recorded Friday, a few hours after Trump promised on Twitter than his administration would produce a “tax bill very soon” and “a health care bill even sooner.”

Other highlights from Spicer’s press briefing on Tuesday:

  • Spicer advised reporters to remember that a federal appeals court hearing set for 6 p.m. Eastern time is only focused on another court’s freeze on Trump’s temporary ban on individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States — not on the legal “merits” of the order itself.
  • He would not comment on whether Trump intends to take that case to the Supreme Court if the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals judge keeps the program frozen. Earlier in the day, however, Trump told reporters allowed into a meeting that the case could go to the high court.
  • The press secretary, meanwhile, said, “There is no question the president respects the judicial branch,” just days after Trump questioned the legitimacy of a federal judge.
  • Spicer left open the door for more countries to be added to the list of seven on which Trump’s immigration order focuses, though he did not say if such a move is being considered. At a House Homeland Security Committee meeting earlier in the day, however, DHS Secretary John Kelly seemed to contradict that, saying no other countries were being considered as additions to the list of seven.
  • And on a lighter note, Spicer announced that the president will spend a second consecutive weekend at his Mar-a-Lago golf resort in South Florida — and he will take Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with him. Abe is scheduled to have meetings Friday with Trump and a joint press conference at the White House.

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