House GOP defiant on health bill amid Senate uncertainty

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Vulnerable House Republicans stood defiant about their support for an unpopular bill to repeal Obamacare as the effort languished in the Senate, leaving them to face angry voters with, perhaps, nothing to show for it.

"I have no regrets. I am doing what I can as a member of Congress to solve problems. That's why I came here. I didn't come here to be potted plant," said Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., who played a key role in negotiating the House bill that narrowly passed in early May.

Backing the measure was already politically risky for Republicans in competitive House districts, especially the 23 lawmakers from places where Hillary Clinton got more votes than President Donald Trump. The Congressional Budget Office said the House bill would eventually cause higher premiums for seniors and result in 23 million people losing coverage.

And only 22 percent of adults support the Republican health plan, according to a new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey.

Midterm elections typically take a toll on the party occupying the White House — Barack Obama's Democrats lost 63 House seats in 2010 and majority control, George W. Bush's Republicans lost 30 seats and their advantage in 2006.

Re-election bids by GOP incumbents would get even tougher if the Republican-led Congress fails to fulfill a seven-year promise to repeal and replace Obama's health care law.

Under pressure from Trump, GOP senators were trying to revive their health care bill, which collapsed twice. House Republicans were pressing too.

"Senators have now wasted seven months doing nothing," complained Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla. "We need senators that want to help this president and keep their promises. The American people are sick of the excuses from senators. I'm sick of the excuses."

Earlier this year, MacArthur was heavily involved in the negotiations to revive the House health care bill after Speaker Paul Ryan was forced to pull the measure. Working with conservatives, MacArthur negotiated provisions that would let states seek waivers so that insurers could charge higher premiums for older Americans so that younger, presumably healthier, people could pay less. Also, states could get waivers so that insurance companies could offer less comprehensive policies.

The two-term lawmaker already has a Democratic challenger for next year's midterm election.

"We can't just change the subject and pretend like health care is going to fix itself — it's not," MacArthur said.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Republican whose south Florida district voted for Clinton, isn't regretting his vote for the health bill, either.

"Not at all," he said. "Many of us thought we needed to be honest with the American people. And for many years we had been campaigning about how we needed to do better than the (Affordable Care Act). We know that the ACA is very vulnerable right now."

"If Senate Republicans can't agree on something, we should work on a bipartisan bill," he said.

Democrats are ready to pounce.

"You have every provision of this bill tattooed on your forehead," Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said to Republicans just before they passed the bill. "You will glow in the dark on this one."

As the vote occurred, Democrats taunted Republicans by chanting, "Na nah nah, hey hey, goodbye."

To protect vulnerable lawmakers, party leaders rarely ask rank-and-file members to take tough votes on bills that don't have a good chance of becoming law. If House Republicans lose seats next year, many could point to Ryan's decision to vote on the health bill with no guarantee the GOP-led Senate would flow suit.

The vote is reminiscent of the cap-and-trade bill passed by House Democrats in 2009. The bill aimed to limit greenhouse gasses by having companies buy or sell permits to emit these gases, but it didn't even get a vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Republicans dubbed the bill an energy tax and hammered House Democrats over the vote as they took back control of the House in the 2010 election. Many factors contributed to the outcome of the 2010 election — including the passage of Obamacare that year — but it was hard for some Democrats to highlight the benefits of an energy bill that never became law.

Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., acknowledged that Republicans are handing Democrats a campaign issue by failing to repeal and replace Obamacare.

"It's a good 30- or 60-second ad if there's not something to point to. 'Yeah, we did this.' Well no, nothing happened," Sanford said.

Other Republicans argue that Obamacare is failing, and they at least tried to enact something better.

Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., recalled Pelosi's remarks that House Republicans were "walking the plank" to vote for a bill that would never get through the Senate.

"The ship is sinking under the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare," Thompson said. "You can't walk the plank on a sinking ship."


Associated Press writers Kevin Freking and Richard Lardner contributed to this report.


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