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GOP leaders need votes for health bill on eve of House showdown

WASHINGTON — Their top legislative priority dangling in peril, President Donald Trump and Republican leaders cajoled recalcitrant GOP lawmakers Wednesday to back their health care overhaul. A day ahead of a long-awaited House showdown roll call, conservatives insisted they had the votes to torpedo the measure and the number of lawmakers publicly expressing opposition snowballed.

Trump huddled at the White House with 18 lawmakers, a mix of supporters and opponents, Vice President Mike Pence saw around two dozen and House GOP leaders held countless talks with lawmakers at the Capitol. The sessions came as leaders rummaged for votes on a roll call they can ill afford to lose without wounding their clout for the rest of the GOP agenda.

Asked by reporters if he'd keep pushing a health overhaul if the House rejects the measure, Trump said, "We'll see what happens."

In a count by the Associated Press, at least 25 Republicans said they opposed the bill, more than enough to narrowly defeat the measure. That number was in constant flux amid the flurry of eleventh-hour lobbying by the White House and GOP leaders.

Including vacancies and absentees, Republicans will likely need 215 votes to prevail.

Most opponents were conservatives asserting that the GOP legislation demolishing former President Barack Obama's health care law did not go far enough. They insisted it must repeal the law's requirements that insurers pay for specified services like maternity care and cover all comers, including the sickest, which they say drive up premiums.

Moderates were daunted by projections of 24 million Americans losing coverage in a decade and higher out-of-pocket costs for many low-income and older people, as predicted by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

For now, the White House and House leaders showed no sign of delaying their legislation, their initial attempt to deliver on a pledge to erase Obama's law they've repeated since its 2010 enactment.

"There is no plan B. There is plan A and plan A, we're going to get this done," White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.

Underscoring the delicate pathway to victory, participants in the Pence meeting said there were no visible signs of weakened opposition and described one tense moment.

Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, said White House chief strategist Steve Bannon told them: "We've got to do this. I know you don't like it, but you have to vote for this."

Weber said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, bristled.

"When somebody tells me I have to do something, odds are really good that I will do exactly the opposite," Barton said, according to Weber.

Some conservatives said that at the Pence meeting, White House officials suggested having the Senate amend the bill by erasing the insurance regulations when — and if — it reaches the Senate. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said that had switched him to supporting the bill, but others were skeptical.

"We're being asked to sign a blank check," said Perry, who has opposed the bill. "In the past, that hasn't worked out so well."

"There's not enough votes to pass it tomorrow," said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., leader of the House Freedom Caucus, the hard-line group that has spearheaded opposition to the GOP bill. Most of the group's roughly three dozen members seemed opposed to the legislation, more than enough to defeat it.

The Republican legislation would halt Obama's tax penalties against people who don't buy coverage and cut the federal-state Medicaid program for low earners, which the statute expanded. It would provide tax credits to help people pay medical bills, though generally skimpier than the aid Obama's statute provides. It also would allow insurers to charge older Americans more and repeal tax boosts the law imposed on high-income people and health industry companies.

Some Republicans were showing irritation at their party's holdouts, all but accusing them of damaging the GOP.

"At some point we have to cowboy up and prove we can govern," said Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. "Otherwise we're just going to be the 'no' party and some people are OK with that, it appears."

The Rules Committee, usually tightly controlled by GOP leadership, was expected to let the chamber vote on revisions that top Republicans concocted to win votes. These include adding federal aid for older people and protecting upstate New York counties — but not Democratic-run New York City — from repaying the state billions of dollars for Medicaid costs.

There were two other glimmers of hope for GOP leaders.

Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., said he had switched from "no" to "yes" after Trump endorsed his bill to use Social Security numbers to hinder people from fraudulently collecting tax credits. Barletta, an outspoken foe of illegal immigration, said he had been promised a vote next month on the measure by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Also, one or two House Democrats seemed likely to miss Thursday's roll calls due to health and family problems. That would mean Republicans would need 215 votes to prevail, one fewer than if all Democrats appeared.

Democrats were uniformly against the GOP repeal drive. They laud Obama's statute for expanding health care coverage to 20 million more people and imposing coverage requirements on insurers.

Republicans face an even tougher fight in the Senate, which they control by just 52-48. Six GOP senators have already said they oppose the legislation, enough to sink it without changes.

GOP leaders need votes for health bill on eve of House showdown 03/22/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 22, 2017 6:19pm]
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