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Ryan Agrees to Health Care Conference With Big Caveat

Speaker says Senate will have to act on conference report first to show it can pass it

Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., has committed to going to conference on a health care bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., has committed to going to conference on a health care bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Thursday ceded to GOP senators’ demands that the House commit to going to conference on a health care bill, but added a caveat that will provide his members cover from having to take another difficult vote. 

“We expect the Senate to act first on whatever the conference committee produces,” the Wisconsin Republican said in a statement Thursday. 

That statement suggests that Ryan is trying to prevent his members from having to take another difficult vote on a health care overhaul without assurances the Senate can pass the plan. 

The House passed its bill to partially repeal and replace the 2010 health care law in May with only a single vote to spare, only to have the Senate quickly reject the plan and begin work on their own.

But various versions of the Senate bill have failed to garner the needed support to get through the chamber, leaving House Republicans as the only members on record voting for legislation that is politically unpopular.  

“Repealing and replacing Obamacare still ultimately requires the Senate to produce 51 votes for an actual plan,” Ryan said. “The House remains committed to finding a solution and working with our Senate colleagues, but the burden remains on the Senate to demonstrate that it is capable of passing something that keeps our promise, as the House has already done. Until the Senate can do that, we will never be able to develop a conference report that becomes law.”

In agreeing to go to conference, Ryan acknowledged that the so-called skinny repeal bill Senate GOP leaders are putting together is “the only path ahead” to keep the overhaul effort alive.  

“Senators have made clear that this is an effort to keep the process alive, not to make law,” the speaker said. “If moving forward requires a conference committee, that is something the House is willing to do.”

Ryan’s announcement should allow the Senate to proceed with the skinny plan that had become stalled earlier Thursday when four GOP senators said they would not support it without assurances from Ryan that the House would go to conference and not pass the skinny bill. 

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