White House continues to sell changes to failed health care bill to Republicans

GOP leaders first scrapped plans for a House floor vote two weeks ago.

ByBENJAMIN SIEGEL
April 5, 2017, 12:26 PM

— -- Vice President Mike Pence and other top White House officials continued discussions with House Republicans on changes to the GOP health care bill Tuesday, in an effort to push the chamber to act on the measure before members leave Washington for Easter recess.

Pence, who has huddled with moderates and members of the House Freedom Caucus this week, returned to Capitol Hill Tuesday evening for a meeting with top Republicans from leadership and different wings of the GOP conference to discuss potential changes to the American Health Care Act two weeks after a lack of support for the bill forced House Speaker Paul Ryan to pull the measure from the floor.

Members emerged from the meeting Tuesday evening praising the discussion, but said Republicans had not reached an agreement on the most controversial topic of the GOP proposal -- the repeal of some Obamacare regulations regarding essential health benefits and premiums.

"It was a great, productive meeting," Rep. Mark Walker, R-North Carolina, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, told reporters.

Members said the White House did not present them with legislative text to review in the meeting, which some had expected to see by the end of the day.

In a news conference Tuesday, Ryan said he was encouraged by the renewed health care discussions, but refused to lay out a timeline for a vote on the measure.

"I don't want to put some kind of an artificial deadline because we're at that conceptual stage," Ryan, R-Wisconsin, told reporters at the Capitol. "We have very productive conversations occurring among our members."

He continued, "We're throwing around concepts to improve the bill. That's occurring right now, but that is not to say that we are ready to go. Because we want to make sure that when we go, we have the votes to pass this bill."

Some members, including Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, want the House to stay in session until Republicans reach a deal on health care.

After the meeting with Pence on Tuesday, Meadows said the vice president and Trump -- who he spoke with earlier in the day -- "want to get this done as quickly as possible on behalf of the American people."

On Monday night, Pence, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus met with members of the House Freedom Caucus to discuss some proposed changes to the failed GOP health care bill.

Republicans are discussing a proposal that would allow states to opt out of compliance with several Obamacare regulations, including the essential health benefits provision - which requires health insurance plans to cover 10 categories of care, including mental health treatment and prescription drugs - and the community ratings mandate, which prevents health insurers from charging older and sicker consumers more than younger, healthier Americans.

Changes to the community ratings mandate would effectively undermine health insurance coverage for consumers with pre-existing conditions, according to health care experts.

Republicans will convene once again on Wednesday to take up repealing the Title I regulations.

"We haven't resolved it," Walker said Tuesday night.

Rep. Chris Collins, R-New York, a House Energy and Commerce Committee member who met with officials at the White House yesterday, said some members do not want to give states the ability to waive the provision.

It's not clear if the changes, which conservatives say would help lower premiums, would be palatable to moderate Republicans in the House who initially opposed the bill.

Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-New Jersey, who opposed the first iteration of the bill, tweeted today that he is still against the proposal.

Republicans can only afford to lose 21 votes and still pass the bill through the House chamber.

ABC's John Parkinson contributed to this report.

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