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U.S. House Votes To Begin Repealing Obamacare

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Republicans on Friday won passage of a measure starting the process of dismantling Obamacare, despite concerns about not having a ready replacement and the potential financial cost of repealing Democratic President Barack Obama’s landmark health insurance law.

The House of Representatives voted 227-198 to instruct committees to draft legislation by a target date of Jan. 27 that would repeal the 2010 Affordable Health Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. The Senate approved the same measure early Thursday.

No Democrats supported the initiative. Nine Republicans voted against the measure.

With this vote, Republicans began delivering on their promise to end Obamacare, which also was a campaign promise of Republican President-elect Donald Trump.

The program, which expanded health coverage to some 20 million people, has been plagued by increases in insurance premiums and deductibles and by some large insurers leaving the system.

The resolution passed by the House and Senate does not need presidential approval, since it is part of an internal congressional budget process. But once the Obamacare repeal legislation is drafted, both chambers will need to approve it, and a presidential signature will be required.

By that time, Trump will have been sworn in as president. He has urged Congress to act quickly to repeal and replace the Democratic program.

Obamacare was enacted nearly seven years ago – over Republican objections – in an effort to expand coverage and give new protections for people with pre-existing health conditions and other barriers that left them without insurance.

In the past few years, the House has voted more than 60 times to repeal or alter Obamacare, but Republicans had no hope a repeal would become law as long as Obama was president and could veto their bills.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, said Obamacare was collapsing and action was urgent. For people who have health insurance through the Obamacare system, he said, “The deductibles are so high it doesn’t feel like you’ve got insurance in the first place.

“We have to step in before things get worse. This is nothing short of a rescue mission,” Ryan said.

Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi rebutted Republicans’ claims that the law was a failure.

“The rate of growth in healthcare costs in our country has been greatly diminished by the Affordable Care Act,” she said. “In the more than 50 years that they have been measuring the rate of growth, it has never been slower than now.”

The choice before lawmakers, she said, is “affordable care versus chaos.”

Harvard University economist David Cutler warned that there could be trouble in U.S. insurance markets if lawmakers do repeal the law but a replacement is slow in coming.

“You could create a lot of havoc,” he said, adding that some insurers “may get out of the market entirely.”

Trump applauded Congress’s efforts with a Friday morning tweet saying, “The ‘Unaffordable’ Care Act will soon be history!”

The president-elect, who takes office on Jan. 20, pressed lawmakers this week to repeal and replace it “essentially simultaneously.”

Republican leaders would like to finish the repeal process within weeks, but some lawmakers think it could take far longer.

Some Republicans have expressed concern about starting a repeal before agreeing on how to replace provisions of the complicated and far-reaching law.

The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimated repealing Obama’s signature health insurance law entirely would cost roughly $350 billion over 10 years.

Republicans say a good replacement would give states more control of a healthcare program and provide more stability on health insurance premiums.

(Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert, Susan Heavey and Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Bill Trott and Jonathan Oatis)

IMAGE: A bill repealing Obamacare sits on a desk after being signed by U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 7, 2016.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Pence: Repealing Obamacare ‘First Order Of Business’

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President-elect Donald Trump has made repealing President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law the “first order of business” and intends a smooth transition to a “market-based” medical insurance system, Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Wednesday.

Democratic leaders met with Obama on Capitol Hill to discuss how they can protect the law and accused Republicans of wanting rip apart the American healthcare system with no plan on how to replace it.

Trump and his fellow Republicans who control the U.S. Congress risk causing chaos in the health insurance market in scuttling the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which is known as Obamacare, as well as political backlash against Republicans.

Pence met with Republican congressional leaders. Afterward neither he nor House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan offered few details on what a Republican-backed replacement for Obamacare would look like. Ryan said lawmakers will take action that does not “pull the rug out from anybody.”

Obama met on Wednesday morning with Democratic legislators, including U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, to discuss how they can protect the Democratic-backed law, which was passed nearly seven years ago over unified Republican opposition.

Obama “encouraged us to fight,” Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings told reporters.

The law has enabled upward of 20 million Americans who previously had no medical insurance to get coverage and is considered Obama’s top legislative achievement. Republicans, who will control both Congress and the White House in 2017, condemn it as a government overreach.

“The first order of business is to keep our promise to repeal Obamacare and replace it with the kind of healthcare reform that will lower the cost of health insurance without growing the size of government,” Pence said at a news conference.

Pence said it must be done in a way that does not “work a hardship” on the economy or Americans who gained insurance through Obamacare.

Pence said Trump, who takes office Jan. 20, will work in concert with congressional leaders for a “legislative and executive action agenda for an orderly and smooth transition to a market-based healthcare reform system.”

Ryan said Republicans have a plan and “plenty of ideas” to replace Obamacare but offered few specifics.

Trump had said earlier on Twitter that Republicans “must be careful in that the Dems own the failed ObamaCare disaster, with its poor coverage and massive premium increases.”

“Don’t let the Schumer clowns out of this web,” he added, referring to Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer.

Obama walked into a Democratic caucus meeting on Capitol Hill accompanied by House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. He ignored a shouted question from a reporter about how to stop repeal of the healthcare law.

“I think the issue here is the impact on people’s lives,” Democratic Senator Jack Reed said. “Many people don’t really understand that they’re protected by Obamacare.”

Reed said Democrats will “point out that you are taking the protections away and you have nothing in place.”

(Additional reporting by Mike Stone; Writing by Will Dunham and Steve Holland; Editing by Leslie Adler and Bill Trott)

IMAGE: U.S. Vice President-elect Mike Pence arrives at Trump Tower in New York City, U.S., January 3, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

Republicans In Turmoil On First Day Of Congress In Trump Era

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican-led U.S. Congress began its first session of the Donald Trump era in turmoil on Tuesday as the House of Representatives backed away from a decision to defang an ethics watchdog after a public outcry, including a dressing-down from the president-elect.

With Trump set to be sworn in as president on Jan. 20, Republicans will control both the White House and Congress for the first time since 2007, and they were set to begin laying plans for enacting his agenda of cutting taxes, repealing Obamacare and rolling back financial and environmental regulations.

But the moment was overshadowed by a surprise move by Republicans in the House of Representatives in a closed-door meeting late on Monday to weaken the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, which is in charge of investigating ethics accusations against lawmakers.

Trump, who campaigned on a pledge to “drain the swamp” and bring ethics reforms to Washington, was not pleased.

“With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it may be, their number one act and priority,” he said on Twitter on Tuesday.

“Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance!”

The ethics office was created in 2008 following several corruption scandals but some lawmakers have charged in recent years that it has been too quick to investigate complaints from outside partisan groups.

Lawmakers wanted to have greater control of the watchdog, and inserted changes into a broader rules package, set to pass when the House convenes on Tuesday.

Even before Trump’s tweet, many House Republicans, including top leaders, opposed the measure and worried about its ramifications. Trump’s tweet prompted an emergency meeting and a quick change of course by Republicans.

“It was taken out by unanimous consent … and the House Ethics Committee will now examine those issues,” said AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan.

OBAMACARE IN SIGHTS

Since his election on Nov. 8, Trump has made clear he wants to move swiftly to enact proposals he outlined during the campaign such as simplifying the tax code, slashing corporate tax rates and repealing and replacing Obama’s signature health insurance program known as Obamacare.

Republicans have long sought to dismantle Obamacare, insisting it was unworkable and hampered job growth. But they face a dilemma over how to provide health insurance for the 13.8 million people enrolled in Obamacare who could lose their coverage. The law aims to provide health insurance to economically disadvantaged people and expand coverage for others.

Trump kept up his attack on Tuesday, tweeting: “People must remember that ObamaCare just doesn’t work, and it is not affordable,” and adding, “It is lousy healthcare.”

Last month Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said in an interview with Kentucky Educational Television that before the election, he assumed Trump did not have a chance of defeating Hillary Clinton and that Democrats would retake control of the Senate, ending any talk of repealing Obamacare.

But following Trump’s win and Republicans retaining their Senate majority, the Republicans find they have to deliver on their campaign promise, even though they have not agreed on a replacement healthcare program.

McConnell has said his top priorities for the new Congress were dealing with the “massive overregulation” he said had been a brake on the U.S. economy and making changes in the tax code to stop companies from moving jobs out of the country.

Republican lawmakers also want to curtail regulations aimed at controlling industrial emissions that contribute to climate change, and roll back banking industry reforms enacted after the near-collapse of Wall Street in 2008.

Republicans might use upcoming spending bills funding government agencies to try to kill some of those regulations. Trump also is expected to try to use his executive powers toward that end.

OBAMACARE DEFENSE

The first meeting of the 115th Congress will be full of ceremony, as the 435 members of the House of Representatives and a third of the 100-member Senate are sworn in.

Amid the celebration will be a move by House Republicans to clear the decks for Obamacare repeal.

That will come in the form of a vote on rules governing House procedures in the two-year term of the chamber. Tucked into the rules package is a move to prevent Democrats from slowing or stopping Obamacare repeal legislation because of the potential cost to the U.S. Treasury of doing so.

Leading Democrats warned of a fierce battle over Obamacare and said they planned to mobilize grassroots support for it. Obama is scheduled to meet on Wednesday with congressional Democrats to discuss strategies for fending off the Republican attacks on Obamacare.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence said he would meet on Capitol Hill on Wednesday with lawmakers about plans for replacing Obamacare and rolling back other regulations.

Trump’s Cabinet nominees were to begin meeting with senators on Tuesday ahead of Senate confirmation hearings.

The Senate also is expected to receive a Supreme Court nomination from Trump early in his term to replace conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last February. Republicans refused to consider Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland last year.

Prominent Republican Senator John McCain has warned that Rex Tillerson, Trump’s choice for secretary of state, will have to explain his relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who McCain has called a “thug and a murderer.”

Tillerson, who spent much of his career at Exxon Mobil Corp, has been involved in business dealings in Russia and opposed U.S. sanctions against Moscow for its incursion into Crimea.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington and Gina Cherulus in New York; Writing by Richard Cowan and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Trott)

IMAGE: U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) holds a weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 

Trump Goes On Charm Offensive With Republicans But Differences Remain

Donald Trump went on a charm offensive on Thursday to try to win the party establishment’s support for his insurgent candidacy, but top Republican Paul Ryan stopped short of endorsing him.

Trump was on his best behavior on a day of meetings with Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill. He listened patiently as they raised concerns about his tone and the need to try to appeal to Hispanic voters.

He avoided strident language like the frequent criticism he has lobbed from the campaign trail, that many lawmakers are awestruck by the corridors of power and forget why they were sent to Washington.

“The whole discussion was very solid, reasonable and a warm and winning discussion,” said U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. “I think you’re going to find he’s going to be better and better all the time.”

Trump’s day in Washington was aimed at laying to rest some of the concerns that persist among Republicans about his incendiary tone and some policy proposals that violate party doctrine.

The New York billionaire, who needs the party behind him in order to have a chance at winning the Nov. 8 election, has vowed to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, deport 11 million illegal immigrants, temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country and impose trade protectionist policies.

Trump held an hour-long session with Ryan, who as speaker of the House of Representatives is the top U.S. elected Republican and can hold sway with many establishment Republicans leery of Trump.

“This was our first meeting, but it was a very positive step toward unification,” Ryan and Trump said in a joint statement.

The usually loquacious Trump was restrained, issuing a tweet in which he said: “Things working out really well!” before flying home to New York.

Party leaders are normally eager to rally around a presidential nominee to combine forces for the battle leading up to the general election. But Ryan has withheld his endorsement of Trump out of concern over the businessman’s conservative credentials.

In remarks to reporters after the meeting, the congressman said he was encouraged by the session but that more work will be needed.

“There’s no secret that Donald Trump and I have had our differences. We talked about those differences today,” Ryan said at his weekly news conference. “I do believe we are planting the seeds in getting ourselves unified.”

Ryan, who may harbor aspirations of running for president in 2020 or later, noted that he represents a wing of the conservatives and that it is positive that Trump is bringing new voters into the party.

 

TONE IT DOWN

Despite his problems in winning over senior Republicans, Trump received a boost on Wednesday when a Reuters/Ipsos national poll showed him pulling even with likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The online survey found 41 percent of likely voters supporting Clinton and 40 percent backing Trump.

Later on Thursday, Trump went into a meeting with Senate Republican leaders, where he posed for photos with them and heard concerns about his campaign rhetoric but appeared to make some progress in tempering concerns about him.

“Everyone here wants you to win,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told him at the Senate session, a source said.

U.S. Senator Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia urged Trump to be careful in his tone. U.S. Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, a former U.S. Trade Representative, urged caution on his rhetoric against trade deals.

“The issue of tone did come up,” said U.S. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who said he gave some advice to Trump on “the importance of the Hispanic vote and the whole idea of distinguishing between illegal immigration and legal immigration.”

In a meeting at a Washington law firm, Trump sat down with James Baker, who served as secretary of state for Republican President George H.W. Bush.

Earlier in the day, Baker had testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Under questioning from U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a former Republican presidential candidate, Baker said the world “would be far less stable” without a strong NATO, a slap at Trump’s idea of reconfiguring the Western alliance and getting European nations to foot more of the bill.

“Secretary Baker had a meeting with Donald Trump that was requested by his campaign,” a Baker spokesman said.

Even U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina softened a bit. Graham dropped out of the presidential race earlier this year and had said the choice between Trump and rival Ted Cruz was like trying to decide between being “shot or poisoned.”

He said he had a “cordial, pleasant conversation” on the phone with Trump on Wednesday.

“I know Mr. Trump is reaching out to many people, throughout the party and the country, to solicit their advice and opinions. I believe this is a wise move on his part,” said Graham.

 

Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Emily Stephenson, Doina Chiacu, Susan Cornwell, Patrica Zengerle, David Morgan; Writing by Steve Holland; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Alistair Bell

Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives at the Republican National Committee for a meeting with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque