White House working with lawmakers on amending Republican health bill

Kevin Lamarque—Reuters
White House spokesman Sean Spicer holds a briefing at the White House on March 14.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Trump administration is working with Congress on amending the proposed Republican health care bill through talks with leaders in the House of Representatives, a White House spokesman said on Tuesday.Asked at a regular briefing if the White House was in discussions with House leadership over “shaping a major or significant managers’ amendment,” spokesman Sean Spicer said: “Yes.””We are obviously in talks with House leadership,” he said of the discussions.Republicans are defending their plan to modify the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, health care reform after a nonpartisan research report showed 14 million Americans would lose medical insurance by next year under the 
proposal even as it reduces the budget deficit.The U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report on Monday forecast that by 2026, the number of people without health insurance would increase by 24 million if the House of Representatives’ legislation to replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act is adopted. The figure regarding those who will “lose” insurance includes those who decide not to purchase it because they are no longer required to, as they were under the old Obamacare mandate.The findings are making it harder for Republicans to sell the plan — their first major piece of legislation under Republican President Donald Trump — in Congress, especially the Senate.The Trump administration defended the proposed healthcare overhaul, saying it will offer consumers more choices than Obamacare, Democratic former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement.Congressional Republicans have vowed for years to undo Obamacare, which expanded health insurance to about 20 million Americans.But their new effort faces opposition from a range of Republicans — from conservatives who think it does not go far enough to moderates concerned about the impact on coverage and costs.Doctors, hospitals and other medical providers as well as patient advocates have urged lawmakers to abandon the plan.Republican Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he did not think the CBO report meant the end of the proposal. “No matter what you do … you’re going to have differences like that, and to be honest with you, I don’t think they truly looked at all the aspects,” he said.White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the CBO’s main role was not evaluating health care coverage.”When you get down to it, the Congressional Budget Office is there to measure the potential impact of programs on the federal budget. Its attempts to estimate coverage have been historically faulty,” he told reporters.Democrats say the Republican plan could hurt the elderly, poor and working families while giving tax cuts for the rich. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said it “is a wreck.””It’s vintage Donald Trump: talks like a populist, but when he acts, it’s hard-right, favoring the special interests and hurting the middle class and those trying to get there,” Schumer told a news conference.Republican senators held a lunch on Capitol Hill with Vice President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price where they discussed possible changes to the Republican health care bill.In one assessment that might persuade more Senate Republicans to back the bill, the CBO said federal deficits would fall by $337 billion between 2017 and 2026 under the measure.Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the CBO report indicated a path to lower insurance premiums, a lower deficit and significant entitlement reform. He said the bill would be open to amendment once it came to the Senate, suggesting the process of shaping the legislation was far from done.”The first step is in the House. We’re hopeful and optimistic they’re going to send us over something. It will be open for amendment. We’re going to do our thing, and pass it,” he told reporters.Trump, who campaigned on a pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare and provide insurance for everybody, has yet to comment on the report.