- The Washington Times - Friday, March 24, 2017

House Republicans called off a vote on their Obamacare repeal bill Friday, acknowledging a stinging defeat and sending the party on a round of deep soul-searching about whether they can be a governing majority.

“Obamacare is the law of the land, it’s going to remain the law of the land until it’s replaced. We did not have quite the votes to replace this law,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said, calling the failure a wake-up moment for Republicans who have been fractious for years, and who now must decide whether there are any issued they can reach agreement.

Mr. Ryan said there are no immediate plans to try again on repeal, meaning Republicans will allow Obamacare to play out.

He said they expect the law to hit the dreaded “death spiral” of fewer customers and soaring costs — though the latest analysis by the Congressional Budget Office says that’s unlikely.

President Trump, who made a full-court press to pass the GOP’s bill, said Obamacare remains a “mess” and, like Mr. Ryan, predicted its imminent collapse. He said that will be blamed on Democratic leaders who refused to cooperate in reworking the law.

“I think the losers are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer because they now own Obamacare,” he said, predicting the two leaders will eventually have to come to him.

SEE ALSO: Paul Ryan: Nation ‘living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future’

Mr. Trump said they fell 10-15 votes short of getting a majority, and said he was “disappointed” in hardcore conservatives who refused to back him on the bill.

He and Mr. Ryan both said they’ll now turn to tax reform.

Repealing Obamacare had been Republicans’ election mantra since the Affordable Care Act was signed in 2010, helping the GOP to major victories in elections in 2012, 2014 and 2016.

But disagreements over the actual details of repealing and replacing it with a GOP health bill proved intractable.

A planned vote Thursday was scratched as Mr. Trump and Mr. Ryan made last-minute changes, and a do-over was slated for Friday. The president said he was done negotiating and Republicans had a take-it-or-leave-it decision.

Too many of them were prepared to leave it.

Hardline conservatives said Mr. Ryan’s bill didn’t go far enough to bring premiums down, while centrists were spooked by budget estimates that said the GOP bill would leave 24 million fewer people holding insurance a decade from now.

Democrats, who were prepared to vote unanimously against repeal, gloated at the bill’s failure.

“Today’s a great day for our country,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said. “It’s a victory for the American people.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said the GOP flub reflected two themes in the Trump era —”incompetence and broken promises.”

“They can’t write policy that actually makes sense. They can’t implement the policies they do write,” the New York Democrat said.

He’s also emboldened about future fights, saying attempts to cut taxes for the wealthy “won’t fly,” and that Mr. Trump’s budget leans too far to the right and will be rejected by Congress.

Both Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer said they’re ready to work with Mr. Trump on some changes to Obamacare, but neither has named any pieces that could draw bipartisan support.

Democrats say the solution to the ailing law is more government intervention, in the form of higher payments to Obamacare customers and a government-run health plan to compete with private plans on the exchanges.

Republicans said those are non-starters and Democrats will now see their law fail.

“Next move on health care – #CollapseandReplace,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, posted on Twitter.

Mr. Schumer countered that the latest estimate from the Congressional Budget Office suggests Obamacare is “stable.”

“The Congressional Budget Office says it’s not collapsing at all,” he said.

In the wake of the bill’s failure, conservatives blamed the GOP for bungling things.

Rep. Louie Gohmert, Texas Republican, said GOP leaders in Congress wrote the bill “in secret,” then forced it upon reluctant members.

He said that while he understood Mr. Trump’s take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum, House Republicans shouldn’t drop the issue.

“If I were president I wouldn’t deal with health care anymore, but as legislators it is a problem and we should pick it right back up, do it the right way, get everybody with a different interest in the room together,” Mr. Gohmert said.

Conservatives said the bill’s failure didn’t rest with Mr. Trump, who they said did everything he could to win passage.

“It was a legislative branch decision, not an executive branch decision,” Rep. Mo Brooks, Alabama Republican, said.

Many other Republicans were tight-lipped and refused to comment. That included Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican and chairman of the House Freedom Caucus and who led opposition to the plan from the right flank of the party.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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