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In loss for Trump, House pulls legislation to repeal Obamacare
by Chris Johnson, Washington Blade
2017-03-24

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In a loss for President Trump, the U.S. House withdrew legislation set for a vote March 24 to repeal Obamacare after near certain defeat of the bill was imminent.

Moments before the vote was scheduled in the later afternoon, the Republican-controlled House cancelled the vote on the American Health Care Act, a measure crafted by U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan ( R-Wis. ) and endorsed by Trump.

Ryan said at a news conference following the decision to withdraw the bill marked a "disappointing day" for Republicans, who campaigned on repeal of the Affordable Care Act. The decision to withdraw the repeal bill comes during the same week as the seventh-year anniversary of Obamacare.

"Moving from an opposition party to a governing party comes with growing pains, and well, we're feeling those growing pains today," Ryan said. "We came really close today, but we came up short."

The vote was scheduled after days of negotiations between the White House and lawmakers as many Republicans held out support for the legislation. Even though most observers predicted the votes to pass the bill were lacking, Trump ordered a vote Friday on the legislation on the measure in any event saying the time had come for the House to act on move on.

Ryan said during the news conference after he advised Trump to cancel the vote, the president made the call to take that course of action. It wasn't immediately clear whether a vote on the legislation or anything like it would come up at a later time.

"We're going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future," Ryan said under questioning from reporters on what comes next.

In debate on the House floor, opposition to the American Health Care Act was lockstep among the Democratic caucus, who decried the measure as "Wealth Care" because it would have afforded to tax cuts to those making more than $200,000 a year, but at the same time raise insurance premiums for older Americans.

Rep. Linda Sanchez ( D-Calif. ) was among those who condemned the legislation on the House floor, saying it would the achieve"exact opposite" of the goals Trump and Republicans outlined to reduce health care costs.

"This bill doesn't provide better, cheaper health care for everyone," Sanchez said. "And guess what? Everybody knows that. By voting for this bill, you will literally force millions of Americans to pay more for less, and jeopardize the health of our country for generations. So, if you vote to break all the promises you made to the American people, then you're going to own it and you're going to responsible for whatever happens."

According to scoring from the Congressional Budget Office, an estimated 24 million people would have lost insurance coverage as a result of the plan, largely as a result of cuts to Medicaid, which was expanded under Obamacare. For states that agreed to expand Medicaid, individuals at 133 percent of the poverty line and below would be eligible for coverage under the program.

A handful of moderate Republicans—Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen ( R-Fla. )—came out against the legislation because they said it would undermine insurance enrollment in their districts. But members of the House Freedom Caucus opposed the bill on the basis it didn't go far enough to undo Obamacare. The anti-LGBT Heritage Foundation issued urged a "no" on the bill on the basis it would leave the regulatory architecture of the Affordable Care Act in place.

Rep. Steve King ( R-Iowa ), a lawmaker with a notoriously anti-LGBT reputation who was initially a "no" vote on the AHCA because it didn't go far enough, defended the measure as "the first part of the repeal apple" on the House floor.

"If I thought we could do it all in one bite, I would stand for that," King said. "But, instead, here's what we got: We've got a $1 trillion tax cut. We've got a $1.15 trillion spending cut. We got a $150 billion deficit reduction. We've got a bill that eliminates the employer mandate, eliminates the individual mandate, and it eliminates federal mandates in the essential health benefits package on those 10 mandates that I despite, by the way. It expands health savings accounts, doubles them, and it allows for us to pass selling insurance across state lines and it enables catastrophic health insurance."

The cancelled vote is a victory for LGBT rights supporters and HIV/AIDS activists, who opposed the bill on the basis that undoing the Medicaid expansion would be devastating for LGBT people. An estimated 40 percent of people with HIV receive coverage through Medicaid and, according to a recent report by the Center for American Progress, an estimated 18 percent of LGBT people, or about 1.8 million people.

The CAP report found a significant difference in the number of LGBT people insured before and after Obamacare went into effect. In 2013, before the ACA's coverage went into effect, one in three LGBT people making less than $45,000 per year were uninsured, the report. But that figure, the report found, dropped to one in four in 2014 and one in five in 2017.

David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement the cancelled vote marked "a win for the thousands of LGBTQ Americans who will retain live-saving health care under the Affordable Care Act."

"The Republican proposal would have ripped away care from millions of people, with a particularly devastating impact on low-income senior citizens, women, children, LGBTQ people, people living with HIV and others," Stacy said. "This move is an example of the power of constituents and their stories, which weighed heavily on members of Congress. Thankfully, members did not turn their backs on the very people they represent."

The failure of the bill to pass is a massive blow to President Trump, who made his deal-making prowess and plan to repeal and replace Obamacare a major part of his presidential campaign, but now failed to achieve that goal or any other major legislative victory despite Republican control of both chambers of Congress.

On March 24, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was generally tight-lipped on the next steps after the vote on the legislation, refusing to answer on likely defeat of the bill before it happened. Asked why the vote should have been held if there was insufficient support to pass the measure, Spicer replied, "I'm just not going to comment on our strategy."

Ahead of the March 24 vote, media reports indicating the Trump administration was grumbling about the measure. According to a report in The New York Times, Trump now ruefully wishes he had approached tax reform first on the legislative agenda and his team views the health reform measure as a "troublesome stepchild." White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, according to a report in New York Magazine, has privately said the AHCA betrays the populist views on which elected was elected and was "written by the insurance industry."

A Quinnipiac poll published March 23 found the AHCA was deeply unpopular with the American public. Voters disapproved of the plan by 56 percent to 17 percent, the poll found, with 17 percent undecided. Support among Republicans, the poll found, was a lackluster 41-24 percent. One out of every seven Americans, the poll found, think they'll lose their insurance under the Republican plan.

This article is from the Washington Blade, as part of the National LGBT Newspaper Association.


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