House GOP leaders during a members-only conference call Saturday vowed to avoid a government shutdown and said they’re closer to a deal to repeal and replace Obamacare, according to members who participated on the call.
But Speaker Paul Ryan also downplayed the possibility of a vote next week, the same sources said. The Wisconsin Republican said the chamber will vote on a conference-wide deal when GOP whips are confident they have the votes for passage — but not until then.
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The comment was a subtle retort to a narrative being pushed by top White House officials, who told reporters this week that the House would hold the health care vote on Wednesday, before the close of President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office. The public expectations-setting from the White House has created pressure for Ryan to move the bill swiftly and secure a win for the president.
But Republican leaders want to avoid an embarrassing repeat of what happened last month, when Ryan had to pull an earlier health care bill from the House floor because he didn’t have enough votes to pass it. Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus bucked the leadership and committed to voting no, and moderates also started peeling off. This time, Ryan and other GOP leaders want to nail down the votes before calling the legislation to the floor.
The call was initially scheduled to discuss plans to pass a spending bill. Government funding expires on Friday, leaving lawmakers just four legislative days to pass an appropriations package.
Ryan and his top lieutenants were adamant that they will keep the government open, as expected. They did not specify how exactly they intend to avoid a shutdown.
White House officials insisted this week that Republican leaders include funding to build Trump’s border wall with Mexico. Democrats have vowed to block any deal that includes funding for that project, which Trump repeatedly said on the campaign trail he’d force Mexico to pay for. And since the Senate requires at least eight Democrats to pass the bill, GOP leaders eager to avoid a shutdown fight have been trying to persuade the White House to drop its demands for wall funding.
Ryan, however, did not delve into details about the wall money and whether it would be included.
The Saturday afternoon conference call, which lasted about 25 minutes and did not include a question-and-answer session, was vague, according to people who were in on it. Lawmakers who spoke included Ryan, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.).
One member who participated described it as “most generic” and “milquetoast.”
The speaker and his team projected an air of optimism about passing their stalled GOP Obamacare replacement now that the White House has struck a new accord with conservatives. Outside groups that had previously supported members who blocked the earlier legislation have quietly signaled in recent days they’re open to the revived legislative push.
While members of leadership said they have to deal with government funding this week, they said they’d be working on a parallel track on finalizing the health care agreement crafted by Vice President Mike Pence, Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Tuesday Group leader Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.).
The language is still being finalized with top negotiators and is being run by the Senate to ensure it survives the scrutiny of strict Senate rules. GOP leaders told lawmakers they will have more details during a Wednesday conference meeting in Washington.
John Bresnahan contributed to this report.
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