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No Deal on Health Care Bill

Freedom Caucus chairman says talks continue: ‘We’re trying to get creative’

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan walks through Statuary Hall to the House floor in the Capitol on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan walks through Statuary Hall to the House floor in the Capitol on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House conservatives left a meeting with President Donald Trump on Thursday without a deal on changes to the Republican health care bill that would repeal and replace the 2010 health care law, putting a vote later in the day in doubt.

The apparent offer on the table is something the House Freedom Caucus, the bloc of hard-line conservatives that has held its ground against Republican leadership, has deemed a nonstarter.

Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash said after the meeting between Freedom Caucus members and Trump that there was no deal on the Republican bill, also known as the American Health Care Act.

“There were no new concessions,” Amash told reporters. 

Rep. Thomas Massie predicted that there won’t be enough time this week to make the changes needed to the GOP health care bill to bring enough conservative Republican members onboard.

“I don’t think there’s time in two or three hours to re-architect a sixth of our economy and vote on this bill,” the Kentucky Republican said. “It’s done for this week.”

But Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said he believes they can get to a vote by 7 p.m. Thursday.

“We’re trying to get creative and make sure that those options are acceptable to the administration because it’s ultimately the president that is going to decide yes or no on what happens here,” the North Carolina Republican said, heading into a private Freedom Caucus meeting following their talk with Trump. Meadows said members planned to discuss some options for what they’d need to get to “yes.”

The options surround rolling back insurance mandates that drive premiums up, Meadows said, declining to get more specific. However, on repeal of so-called essential health benefits, he said, “The discussion has always been beyond that.”

The Freedom Caucus has pushed for repeal of the essential health benefits, but leadership has said that wouldn’t be allowed under the reconciliation rules the Senate would use to get a bill passed there.

Amash said “there were no new concessions” offered to the Freedom Caucus at the White House. What members are asking for, in addition to the essential health benefits repeal, is rolling back community ratings that prevent insurance companies from discriminating based on age or gender, and making them set prices based on “community.”

He said they were also looking to repeal other insurance mandates that he didn’t name, but it appears they are not pushing for repeal of all aspects of Title I.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer confirmed in his daily briefing that no deal was reached with the more than 30 Freedom Caucus members who met with Trump. Spicer called the session a “positive” step toward a shared goal of driving down health care costs.

Trump is expected to meet later Thursday with members of the moderate Tuesday Group, as his quest to get the bill over the finish line in the House continues, Spicer said.

But when asked what happens if the vote moves forward, Meadows said there were “not enough votes as of 1:30 today.” 

Asked if he’s expecting the vote to be delayed, he said, “I’m expecting that we’re going to negotiate in good faith and hopefully get to a ‘yes’ before 7 o’clock tonight.”

Meadows said he had no plans to go back to the White House on Thursday.

Earlier in the day — apparently before the White House meeting though he didn’t specify — Meadows said he spoke to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and acknowledged his concerns, noting that he’s trying to work to ensure moderate members also remain on board.

While the Freedom Caucus appears largely united, Meadows said he’s not holding anyone to a specific position.

“I happen to be chairman of the Freedom Caucus but I am not their conscience, nor do I represent their districts,” he said. “We’ve got 40, plus or minus, members that make up their own minds in how they can best serve their constituents.”

John T. Bennett, Bridget Bowman and Erin Mershon contributed to this report.

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