Despite Lack of Deal, White House Promises Health Bill Passage

Before delay, Trump spokesman: 'It’s going to pass. So that’s it.'

President Donald Trump is confident the GOP health measure will pass, according to his top spokesman, despite negotiations having produced no path there yet. A planned Thursday evening vote has been postponed. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump is confident the GOP health measure will pass, according to his top spokesman, despite negotiations having produced no path there yet. A planned Thursday evening vote has been postponed. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Posted March 23, 2017 at 4:38pm

The White House on Thursday laid down several markers on the contents of a still-under-negotiation GOP health overhaul bill, and insisted the measure would eventually pass.

But just when remains unclear. A House leadership aide confirmed to CQ Roll Call that there will be no vote on final passage of the American Health Care Act on Thursday; an evening vote had been planned.

Republican lawmakers continued huddling behind closed doors on Capitol Hill in pursuit of a some combination of tweaks that could garner the needed 216 GOP votes, with some even suggesting a vote would come no earlier than Friday and possibly even next week. But White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer repeatedly said Trump administration officials expect a vote will occur — and he again said more and more Republicans are signing on.

“It’s going to pass,” Spicer told reporters sternly. “So that’s it.”

[No Deal on Health Care Bill]

Spicer confirmed no deal was reached when President Donald Trump met privately Thursday morning with more than 30 members of the House Freedom Caucus at the White House. He characterized the session as a “positive” step toward Trump’s and the group’s shared goal of driving down health care costs.

The Freedom Caucus members came to the White House eager to secure a change in the existing legislation that would roll back insurance mandates put in place by the 2010 health law that they claim drive up premiums up. But Spicer said there was no deal — presumably involving those so-called essential health benefits — put in front of the often-insistent conservative faction.

In a sign the talks have a way to go before a passable bill exists, Trump will meet later Thursday with members of the moderate Tuesday Group of House Republicans. And back on Capitol Hill, other talks are ongoing.

But Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., has yet to schedule a vote.

“It’s not a question of trouble,” Spicer said when asked if the legislation is indeed in trouble.

And, though without providing evidence, he repeatedly declared the number of House Republicans ready to vote for the bill “is growing.”

[Little Agreement Among GOP on Health Care Bill Next Steps]

Amid talk that conservatives might demand the nixing of the 2010 law’s provision that forbids insurance companies from denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, Spicer made clear Trump won’t budge on keeping that on the books.

“I think that’s been something that he’s been very clear needs to stay in there,” the president’s top spokesman said.

White House officials also will not accept any changes that might drive up premium costs.

However, the White House appears open to some changes to the essential health benefits provisions, even though it failed to strike a deal with the Freedom Caucus members.

“I think that there’s a lot of concerns … that part of the reason that premiums have spiked out of control is because under Obamacare there were these mandated services that had to be included,” he said. “And what happened was is that, you know, older men, older women who had gone past maternity age were buying benefits that weren’t necessary for them [and] people who were at the younger end of the age scale were buying end-of-life benefits.”

But substantial changes on that issue likely would drive away even more moderate Republicans and could run afoul of Senate rules that allow the bill, under the budget reconciliation process to pass with a simple majority. If those measures were subject to a 60-vote procedural hurdle, there is virtually no way enough the 48-strong Democratic caucus would provide the votes to proceed. 

[Senators Working the Ref Already on Health Care Bill]

The Freedom Caucus members and Trump also spent “a lot” of time discussing administrative changes to the 2010 health law that the administration and House leaders have been working on. The hard-right conservative lawmakers were looking for guarantees that certain changes would happen, and that they would have the promised effects.

Still, there were signs White House officials are preparing for the possibility that the bill might be defeated on the floor or pulled.

“We can’t make people vote” a certain way, Spicer said, calling the task of cobbling together 216 votes from various GOP factions “a balancing act” because there are “disparate desires in the House.”

And asked whether he would pin the bill’s potential failure on Ryan and House GOP leaders, Spicer sidestepped.

“We’re not focused on blaming,” he said. “We’re focused on getting it done and winning.”

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.