- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 2, 2017

House Republicans on Thursday said leaders want to smooth over party divisions and pass their Obamacare repeal plan within three weeks, as the GOP scrambles to keep its health care promises before the Easter break.

GOP leaders are trying to repeal and replace as much of the Affordable Care Act as they can under a fast-track budget process that allows them to avoid a Democratic filibuster in the Senate.

Rank-and-file members said relevant committees are striving to mark up their bills next week, so the plan can advance through House budget and rules panels before hitting the floor.

“We’re still planning on moving this as quick as we can,” Rep. Chris Collins, a New York Republican who sits on the pivotal Energy and Commerce Committee. “It’s going to take three weeks. A week here, a week in Budget and a week in Rules — we want to get it going.”

From there, the Senate would scrub the bill to make sure it meets arcane budget rules, while reaching for consensus on a package that President Trump can sign.

Conservative factions have balked at the emerging plan, though Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Thursday said members had the chance to object during last year’s campaign.

“We told America, ‘Here is our vision of how we replace Obamacare, after we repeal Obamacare,’ ” Mr. Ryan said. “That’s the bill we’re working on right now. That’s the bill we’re working on with the Trump administration.”

“I am perfectly confident that when it’s all said and done, we’re going to unify, because we all, every Republican, ran on ‘repeal and replacing,’ and we’re going to keep our promises,” Mr. Ryan said.

The House GOP proposal would gradually unwind the Affordable Care Act’s vast expansion of Medicaid in 31 states and cap federal spending on the insurance entitlement for the poor, while replacing its income-based subsidies with refundable, age-based tax credits.

Mr. Ryan said the House, Senate and administration are “in sync” on the path forward, after President Trump used his first major address to endorse a plan that uses “tax credits” to help people afford plans they want.

Yet the debate shifted Thursday from what’s in a GOP repeal bill to how it’s being crafted, as Democrats and conservatives alike accused top Republicans of hiding the ball from the public and lawmakers who want to know how their constituents could be affected.

“I am told — you may know better — that the Republicans are hiding their draft ACA repeal bill in a basement room and planning to hold a committee mark-up before the Congressional Budget Office score is available to the public,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who’s been famously mocked for saying Congress needed to pass the Democrats’ 2010 health care law to see what was in it.

“This is unheard of,” she said, though some GOP lawmakers said budget scores would be available before committee action.

Yet Sen. Rand Paul piled on from the right, saying he needs to know more about his party’s plans. He said Congress should let people deduct the cost of health insurance they purchase on their own from their taxes, rather than doling out refundable credits and taxing a portion of particularly generous employer-sponsored plans to pay for it.

“I have been told that the House Obamacare bill is under lock & key, in a secure location, & not available for me or the public to view,” Mr. Paul said on Twitter. “This is unacceptable. This is the biggest issue before Congress and the American people right now. What is the House leadership trying to hide? My guess is, they are trying to hide their ‘Obamacare Lite’ approach.”

Conservative outrage over the GOP plans derived from an early draft of the GOP plans, dated Feb. 10, that leaked on Friday.

Top Republicans downplayed reports that leaders are taking unusual precautions to shield the latest iteration, saying the relevant committees are fine-tuning the plan and will give members plenty of time to review and amend it.

“Reports that the Energy and Commerce Committee is doing anything other than the regular process of keeping its members up to speed on latest developments in its jurisdictions are false,” committee Chairman Greg Walden, Oregon Republican, said.

“We are continuing to work on drafting and refining legislative language to provide relief from a failing law,” he said. “Part of that process is giving committee members and staff the opportunity to work closely together to draft a bill that reflects the concerns of our constituents and reflects our mandate from voters to repeal and replace Obamacare.”

Also Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee advanced Mr. Trump’s pick to oversee the planned unwinding of Obamacare and government insurance programs that cover more than 100 million senior and disabled Americans.

Senators endorsed Seema Verma to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 13 votes to 12, clearing the way for a confirmation vote before the full chamber.

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