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Republican backlash over Trump-backed health care bill

Trump and Pence (right) meet Speaker Ryan recently. Republican unity under test

Washington, United States | AFP | 

US President Donald Trump faced mounting concern from fellow Republicans Tuesday over their party’s plan to replace Obamacare, with conservatives warning the bill was too similar to existing controversial health care law.

Several far-right lawmakers said the Republican plan abandons conservative fiscal principles by maintaining government subsidies of the Affordable Care Act, but under the guise of “refundable tax credits” for people to purchase their own health insurance.

“This is Obamacare Lite, it will not pass. Conservatives are not going to take it,” fumed Senator Rand Paul on Fox News.

Other Republicans described the bill — the result of seven years of effort — as a missed opportunity, even a step in the wrong direction.

“We don’t know how many people would use this new tax credit, we don’t know how much it will cost, and we don’t know if this bill will make health care more affordable for Americans,” Senator Mike Lee said in a statement.

Republicans control the White House and both chambers of Congress.

But if enough Republicans defect, particularly in the Senate, where they hold a narrow 52-48 majority, the highly anticipated repeal-and-replace plan could collapse.

Pressure from outside Congress swelled quickly Tuesday, with several conservative think tanks and lobbying groups opposing the plan.

The pro-free-market Club for Growth labelled the plan “Ryancare,” after House Speaker Paul Ryan, and said it was a “warmed-over substitute for government-run health care.”

With temperatures rising in Congress, Trump hosted more than 20 House Republicans at the White House, where he said he is “proud to support the replacement plan.”

Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence was dispatched to the US Capitol to huddle with Senate Republicans in a show of support for the legislation that was crafted by House Republican leadership.

Pence said afterwards that the bill remained “open to improvement” through the legislative process.

That debate is proceeding apace “and will continue to be vigorous,” said Senator Ted Cruz, who told reporters he had “a number of concerns” with the House legislation.

The bill has come in for criticism from more moderate factions too, including four Republican senators whose states expanded the low-income Medicaid program through Obamacare.

Those states’ Republican governors are concerned that the planned phaseout of the expansion under the new bill would leave thousands of their residents without coverage.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told reporters at the White House that “it’s the beginning of the process,” and that extensive negotiations were ahead.

The legislation gets its first official review in Congress Wednesday, when two House committees debate and possibly amend the bill.

The goal, top Republicans said, is a swift debate and adoption of the Obamacare substitute prior to the upcoming Easter break that begins April 8.

 

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