Opposition Intensifies as GOP Panel Okays Healthcare Plan in Dead of Night

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Opposition Intensifies as GOP Panel Okays Healthcare Plan in Dead of Night

Republicans rejected numerous Democratic amendments that would have made the American Healthcare Act less onerous on the poor and elderly

The House Ways and Means Committee approved the GOP's American Healthcare Act (AHCA) around 4:30am Thursday. The House Energy and Commerce Committee was still debating late Thursday morning. (Photo: CNN)

Update, 3:30pm Eastern:

The GOP's American Healthcare Act (AHCA) cleared the House Energy and Commerce Committee with a party-line vote on Thursday afternoon after more than 27 hours of debate. 

Republicans on the committee rejected all amendments put forth by Democrats, including those "that would have removed a provision defunding Planned Parenthood, kept Obamacare's patient protections and changed the title of the bill to 'Republican Pay More For Less Act'," The Hill reported.

Politico added:

There were some signs on Thursday that Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans were trying to tweak the bill to win over a large faction of House conservatives who've dubbed the House plan "Obamacare lite." The Republican Study Committee said it would support an amendment from Reps. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) that would freeze Medicaid expansion enrollment at the end of this year, two years sooner than the GOP repeal bill allows. But Barton withdrew the amendment, which could have antagonized moderates who don't want the GOP replacement to deeply erode coverage in their states.

Having been approved by the House Ways and Means Committee in the wee hours of Thursday, the legislation now moves to the House Budget Committee, with plans for a vote in the full House within several weeks.

Earlier:

As advocacy groups, industry lobbyists, and people spanning the ideological spectrum continue to line up against the GOP's disastrous American Healthcare Act (AHCA), Republican lawmakers advanced the bill past its first legislative hurdle near dawn on Thursday morning.

Around 4:30am Thursday, after close to 18 hours of debate, the House Ways and Means Committee voted along party lines (23-16) to approve the measure. "This is an historic step, an important step in the repeal of Obamacare," said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), committee chairman. Much like the legislation's roll-out this week, the committee mark-up session was marred by disorder.

Yet despite resistance and calls for revision from many corners, "Republicans on the panel held together and rejected a variety of Democratic amendments while doing little on their own to change the health bill," the New York Times reported.

According to the newspaper:

Among other proposals, Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee turned back Democratic amendments requiring that people not lose health coverage under the Republican legislation and that the plan not increase out-of-pocket costs for older people, a critical issue for AARP.

McClatchy added:

Other Democratic efforts to insert more than a dozen consumer protections into the legislation were also rejected.

And despite concerns that the bill provides $600 billion in tax breaks that will disproportionately benefit upper-income individuals, the first amendment approved by the Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday provided a tax break for insurance companies that would cost taxpayers $400 billion over ten years, according to testimony from Thomas Barthold, staff director of the Joint Committee on Taxation.

The amendment lifts a $500,000 limit on the amount of insurance executive compensation that can be excluded from taxation.

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., called the proposal "morally reprehensible."

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, tasked with unpacking the portions of the bill that deal with Medicaid, was still debating the legislation after more than 24 hours on Thursday morning.

Among the amendments the panel is considering is a proposal to freeze Medicaid expansion two years earlier than AHCA currently prescribes. President Donald Trump reportedly seemed open to such a change during a meeting with right-wingers on Wednesday, and the Republican Study Committee is backing the amendment, according to Politico.

Of the bill as a whole, the Huffington Post noted, "approval in Energy and Commerce seems virtually certain—it's just a matter of when. Afterward, legislation would go to the House Budget Committee and then finally to the House as a whole."

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who remains convinced he has the support to pass the bill, wants that vote to happen this month so the Senate can take up the measure before Easter recess. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said this week he intends to bring the bill directly to the Senate floor, bypassing committees.

All this legislative work is taking place in the continued absence of a "score" from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), meaning lawmakers (and the public) have no way of knowing exactly how much the proposal will cost nor how many people will lose coverage if it is enacted. "This is decision-making without the facts," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, "[t]alking points politely trashing the CBO appear to have been distributed to important Republicans," Slate staff writer Jim Newell wrote Wednesday. "What, pray tell, could be the reason for such a preemptive strike against these nonpartisan bean counters? Could it be that CBO will ultimately be unable to identify the nonexistent revenue sources in the American Health Care Act?"

Political observers point out that the debate over the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, took place "with CBO estimates guiding discussion at every step," as the Huffington Post put it. 

Furthermore, though Republicans have claimed over the years that the ACA was pushed through in the dead of night, the facts suggest otherwise—and now, it is the GOP that is in fact plowing forward with sweeping healthcare legislation.

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