Facing another conservative rebellion, House Republican leaders Wednesday scratched votes on a bill that would have cut one part of President Obama's health care law in order to prop up another section providing coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.
GOP leaders wanted to take $3.6 billion from the health care law's prevention funds and send it to another fund that assists people with pre-existing conditions — a section of the bill Republicans say is acceptable.
But conservative groups rallied against the bill, saying the Republicans shouldn't be in the business of propping up any part of the health care law, even if it allows for cutting more objectionable sections.
The bill was due for a House vote Wednesday afternoon, but after beginning the debate, leaders abruptly pulled it from the floor — a signal that they lacked the votes to pass it.
The legislation had faced dim prospects in the Democrat-controlled Senate anyway, and President Obama had signaled he would veto the bill.
In a statement of policy, the White House budget office said it supported the move to provide funding for the pre-existing conditions pool, but said it wouldn't accept cutting another part of the health care law to do that.
"While the administration would like to extend coverage to as many Americans as possible, rather than finding common ground on a funding source, this legislation effectively would repeal part of the Affordable Care Act," the budget office said.
Republican leaders said their goal was not to prop up part of the health care law, as much as it was to force the administration to make choices.
Rep. Michael C. Burgess, Texas Republican and vice chairman of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health, said the prevention money they were trying to cut is essentially a "slush fund" for liberal causes.
Meanwhile, the pre-existing conditions fund, which sets premiums for people with serious conditions in line with what healthy people pay and sets limits on out-of-pocket costs, exhausted its funding and the administration stopped taking new applicants earlier this year. Many Republicans said that program is actually a good way of covering those with pre-existing conditions and thus should be propped up.
A House leadership aide said members will continue to work on the bill and intend to bring it up for consideration in May.
Supporters of the bill "ran out of time" Wednesday, with many members heading to Texas this week for the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas and a memorial service in Waco for those killed in a fertilizer plant explosion last week.
Eventually, the health care law will force insurance companies to automatically cover those with pre-existing conditions, so the fund will no longer matter.
Despite GOP leaders' pitch, conservatives still balked.
Club for Growth promised to score the vote, and ForAmerica Chairman L. Brent Bozell III singled out Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor for supporting the bill, deeming it "CantorCare."
"Rather than sticking to his promise to repeal the massive government takeover of health care that is ObamaCare, which led to Republicans taking the House majority in 2010, he is actually advocating shoring up a portion of the law that does nothing to use free market-based reforms to cut health care costs," he said.
Democrats, meanwhile, accused Republicans of masking another attempt to gut Mr. Obama's health overhaul. They said the prevention fund is vital to stemming future health problems, and the GOP is forcing the Obama administration to scrape money together after it failed to support efforts to educate Americans on the health care law.
Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said Republicans want the health care law to "be a train wreck, and are doing everything in their power to destroy the tracks."
His remarks were a passing reference to Republicans who needled Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat and key author of the health care law, who last week suggested the law was headed for a "train wreck" unless more Americans learned about its benefits.
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