BY ALAN FRAM
WASHINGTON (AP) — Still reeling from last week’s House health care debacle, Republicans are pivoting to tax cuts and other issues but remain riven into factions and all over the map about how and when to return to their marquee pledge to eviscerate former President Barack Obama’s 2010 overhaul.
House Republicans are gathering Tuesday to discuss their agenda, their first meeting since House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., suddenly abandoned plans last Friday for a vote on the GOP legislation. The retreat on the party’s top legislative priority so far this year was a jarring defeat for President Donald Trump and Republican leaders and raised questions about whether the GOP could muster the unity it will need on other issues.
The doomed GOP bill would have eliminated Obama’s mandate for people to carry insurance or face fines and would have shrunk a Medicaid expansion. It relied on tax credits to help consumers purchase insurance that for many people would be less generous than under Obama’s statute.
Republicans have issued mixed messages on what comes next.
Trump tweeted Monday evening that Democrats will cut a health care deal with him “as soon as Obamacare folds – not long. Do not worry.”
He also attacked anew the House Freedom Caucus, about three dozen hardcore conservatives who largely opposed the GOP bill. He wrote that they snatched “defeat from the jaws of victory.”
House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, an author of the failed legislation, told reporters that Republicans “are turning the page and moving on toward tax reform.” He said he’s encouraging the Senate to produce its own health care package, and he and others suggested that lawmakers may produce several smaller bills addressing pieces of the issue.
But the Senate GOP’s No. 2 leader, John Cornyn of Texas, showed little appetite to plunge ahead.
“My hope is that Democrats will quit gloating at our inability to get it done on a party-line basis and join us in fixing” Obama’s law, Cornyn said. He said he didn’t expect that to happen until “our Democratic friends have to start answering to the people who are being hurt by the failures of Obamacare.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democrats will address Obama’s overhaul only when Republicans drop their repeal effort. He accused Trump of using executive actions to destabilize the health care system. “That’s not presidential,” he said, “that’s petulance.”
Obama’s overhaul has provided insurance to 20 million additional people and forced insurers to provide better coverage to many more, but it’s also left some markets with soaring premiums and fewer insurers.
Ohio GOP Gov. John Kasich, who’s opposed the Republican bill for proposing deep cuts in Medicaid, visited House GOP moderates Monday. He predicted afterward that the measure would not “rise out of the ashes” because Congress is “dysfunctional,” and said the two parties needed to produce bipartisan legislation.
The episode has left Republicans divided into camps that are happy to blame each other for the legislation’s failure.
“We’re going to have to look at where a governing majority comes from. That’s going to require some answers from the Freedom Caucus,” said centrist Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Pa.
But Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., a Freedom Caucus member, said on CNN that Trump got bad advice “from some in leadership who said that some of us should not even exist up here. We need to be on a team and get a good product.”
The health care strategizing comes as the GOP has one clear bright spot: Trump’s nomination of conservative appeals court Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. The Senate plans to consider Gorsuch next week.
Brady wants his panel to produce a bill overhauling much of the nation’s tax code this spring. But Republicans must overcome internal differences on that issue too, including whether to impose taxes on imports to encourage manufacturers to produce products domestically and whether the measure should drive up deficits.
Congress is fast approaching a deadline to pass government-wide spending legislation or face a shutdown. In the past such deadlines have prompted brinkmanship that sometimes led to shuttering agencies.
Leaders tentatively plan to produce a bipartisan measure providing more than $1 trillion to fund the government through Sept. 30. That could prove difficult, with conservatives possibly insisting on more money to build Trump’s border wall or to halt federal payments to Planned Parenthood, and Democrats abandoning the effort if it tilts against their liking.
Associated Press writers Erica Werner, Kevin Freking and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.
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