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Are Proposed Health Care Changes Still Alive?


A group of conservative House Republicans are trying to revive a bill that would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, a bill they helped defeat just a week and a half ago. The House Freedom Caucus is now in talks with the Trump administration, and to be clear, bringing back this bill for a vote would be a long shot.

NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is here now to talk about all this. Hey, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good evening.

MCEVERS: So after this bill failed, all the big players, including President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan, said they were ready to move on. So why are some trying to revive it?

DAVIS: Well, I would say there's still a lot of lingering frustration among House Republicans that they couldn't deliver on this promise, and that frustration's coming up against a two-week congressional break that starts next week.

I talked to Steve Womack. He's a Republican from Arkansas, and he said part of the push is driven by the simple fact that Republicans are going home, and they want to be able to tell their constituents that they haven't given up. Here's what he had to say.

STEVE WOMACK: We're on the eve of going home and spending two weeks with our constituents - or most members. I know I will, but most members are going to go home, spend time with their constituents, and they know they're going to get questions about this. And for the people who were no, they'll have justification to deal with.

DAVIS: Now, I should say Womack supported the original bill. He was a yes. And he said he didn't see, in his words, much energy in the room this morning when it came up - the revival - at the weekly House Republicans meeting. He also said Republicans will not try to move on this again unless they are absolutely certain they have the votes to pass it.

MCEVERS: So what changes do these conservatives say can be made to the bill that would actually get enough votes to get it through the House?

DAVIS: Well, part of this problem is that the exact same issues this time are - that killed the bill the last time - are the same issues this time. These conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus - they want the bill to repeal requirements in the Affordable Care Act that require insurance companies to cover specific health services and also put limits on what insurance can charge people based on their age or their gender. They wanted to roll them back entirely.

Their compromise they're offering is that they'll keep those requirements in place, but they'll let states ask for waivers from the federal law and petition the Health and Human Services Department to get around those restrictions. But there is zero indication right now that that proposal would bring on any of the more moderate Republicans who opposed the bill. And there's no guarantee from the House Freedom Caucus that they will all support it.

I talked to Mo Brooks. He's an Alabama Republican. He's in the Freedom Caucus, and he said, you know, they're not all negotiating as one block. This is what he had to say.

MO BROOKS: For some reason, some in the media think that we vote lockstep with each other. That is categorically not the case. If you were to think of us more as a intellectual conservative think tank with backbone, that's what we are.

DAVIS: And Brooks said today he's still a no as of right now, and that is not exactly the talk of a group ready to make a deal.

MCEVERS: What are House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republican leaders saying about this attempt to revive their bill?

DAVIS: You know, the speaker is publicly very encouraging of the talks. He's not driving them. They're being led by Vice President Mike Pence. The speaker was really cautious in his own tone today coming out of the meeting. He described it as being in the conceptual stage. And I would say that leadership kind of looks at the burden as being on the Freedom Caucus to come to them and show them what they would vote for. And a lot of this push right now is maybe more about optics than optimism.

MCEVERS: How much of a window do they have on this? I mean at what point do they really have to move on?

DAVIS: It's a tight window. You know, Congress is gone half of the month, and Republicans on all sides of this agree that May will be a make or break for making another go of it. Remember; this bill still has to pass the Senate.


DAVIS: So if there's no movement in the House by the middle of May, then it really will be time to move on.

MCEVERS: NPR's Sue Davis, thank you.

DAVIS: Thanks, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.