House will not vote on Affordable Care Act rewrite, smoothing way for government to stay open – Washington Post

By Kelsey Snell and Paul Kane,

Despite pressure from the White House, House GOP leaders determined Thursday night that they didn’t have the votes to pass a rewrite of the Affordable Care Act and would not seek to put their proposal on the floor on Friday.

A late push to act on health care had threatened the bipartisan deal to keep the government open for one week while lawmakers crafted a longer-term spending deal. Now, members are likely to approve the short-term spending bill when it comes to the floor and keep the government open past midnight on Friday.

The failure of Republicans to unite behind the new health-care measure was a blow to White House officials, who were eager to see a vote ahead of President Trump’s 100-day mark. Congressional leaders were more focused this week on securing a spending agreement, according to multiple people involved in the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to talk publicly.

It was also evidence of just how divided Republicans are about how to overhaul Obamacare, despite seven years of GOP promises to repeal and replace the 2010 law. Conservatives and moderates have repeatedly clashed over the contours of such a revamp, most sharply over bringing down insurance premiums in exchange for limiting the kind of coverage that is required to be offered.

As many as 15 or so House Republicans have publicly said they will not support the latest GOP proposal, which was crafted among the White House, the hard-line House Freedom Caucus and a leading moderate lawmaker. That leaves House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and the White House an incredibly narrow path for passage. The speaker can lose only 22 Republicans on a health-care vote because Democrats have fiercely opposed any attempt to repeal the ACA.

Exiting a roughly 90-minute meeting in Ryan’s office late Thursday night, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said there would be no health-care vote Friday and that the main focus of the impromptu huddle was to ensure that the leadership had the votes to pass the one-week funding bill.

“We are not voting on health-care tomorrow,” McCarthy said Thursday, denying that leaders had ever wanted to vote by Friday.

“We’re still educating members,” McCarthy said, adding: “We’ve been making great progress. As soon as we have the votes, we’ll vote on it.”

Trump weighed in on the spending negotiations on Thursday, tweeting that Democrats wanted to shut down the government to “bail out insurance companies.”

“As families prepare for summer vacations in our National Parks — Democrats threaten to close them and shut down the government. Terrible!” Trump tweeted.

But the failure to make progress on health care is a good sign for smooth passage of the government funding bill — at least the version that will keep the government’s lights on through May 5. Lawmakers are still finishing negotiations on a longer-term spending deal to fund the government through September. Republicans have stated that they need Democratic support to pass that measure, which they expect to consider next week.

The Senate stands ready to approve the one-week spending bill, but only once the broader spending agreement is complete. Senators in both parties told reporters they were instructed not to leave Washington on Thursday night.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Thursday blocked a measure to allow the Senate to approve the stopgap budget without a formal vote. He has indicated that he will drop his objections once he is assured that a long-term budget agreement is in place, according to Senate Democratic aides.

“Instead of rushing through health care,” Schumer told reporters, “they first ought to get the government funded for a full year — plain and simple.”

The White House tried to jump-start talks on health care after House Republicans failed to pass a previous attempt at an ACA rewrite at the end of March.

But Democrats fiercely oppose any effort to repeal the ACA and threatened to pull their support from the short-term bill if Republicans moved forward with that effort.

“If Republicans pursue this partisan path of forcing Americans to pay more for less and destabilizing our county’s health-care system,” said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), then “Republicans should be prepared to [keep the government open] on their own.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told a meeting of Democratic whips on Thursday that she had called Ryan and told him there were two conditions for Democratic support of the short-term funding bill, according to aides in the room. Democrats would only sign off on the emergency spending measure to allow lawmakers time to pass the longer-term spending deal, and they would not back the measure if doing so would allow Ryan time to set up a vote on a GOP rewrite of the Affordable Care Act.

The sudden turmoil was yet another sign of Congress’s inability to meet deadlines for its most basic function: keeping the government’s lights on. And it presages fights among Congress, the White House and both parties over spending priorities, despite the one-party rule that gave some observers hope that the gridlock would cease.

But it was Republicans who this week jettisoned money for Trump’s border wall because of widespread agreement that it should not be tied to the spending deal. Trump has also agreed to pay the cost-sharing subsidies for low-income people who get their insurance under the ACA — something he threatened to withhold if he did not get money for the wall.

Ryan on Thursday also blamed Democrats for “dragging their feet” on negotiations in an apparent preparation toblame Democrats if their deal falls through.

“I would be shocked if they would want to see a government shutdown, that the Democrats would want to do that,” Ryan told reporters at his weekly press briefing. “The reason this government funding bill is not ready is because Democrats have been dragging their feet.”

The standoff is the first in what could be several budget battles between Congress and the White House this year. Trump has called for massive hikes to defense spending and harsh cuts to domestic agencies in his 2018 budget, a proposal that many Republicans have rejected out of hand. He is also likely to revive calls for money to begin constructing the border wall — which by some estimates would cost as much as $21 billion — in future budget negotiations.

Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) were forced to negotiate with Democratson the budgetafter it became clear that Republicans lacked enough votes to pass a long-term spending bill on their own. As a result, the GOP leaders have had the uncomfortable task of writing a measure that ignores nearly all of Trump’s priorities, including money for the border wall.

Schumer also sought to refocus blame on the GOP, arguing that the only thing standing in the way of a long-term agreement was Trump himself. Congressional leaders were nearing a final deal several weeks ago, but the talks were derailed when Office of Management and budget director Mick Mulvaney announced that Trump would demand that money for the border wall be included in the funding bill.

“Unfortunately the president stood in the way for quite a long time,” Schumer said. “That’s why we’re a little delayed.”

Congressional leaders had hoped to finalize a spending deal by midweek, but the talks were stuck on a small number of unrelated policy provisions, known as riders. Democrats complained that GOP leaders were trying to use the spending bill to cut abortion access and scale back Wall Street reforms passed under President Barack Obama.

Robert Costa and Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.

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Trump: 'I thought it would be easier' – CNN

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Trump Warns of `Major Conflict' If North Korea Diplomacy Fails – Bloomberg

President Donald Trump said a “major conflict” with North Korea was possible if diplomatic solutions fail, although Senator John McCain said the U.S. leader understood that military action was a last resort.

“There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely,” Trump said in an interview with Reuters. “We’d love to solve things diplomatically, but it’s very difficult.” He praised President Xi Jinping for pressing North Korea — China’s neighbor and ally — saying the Chinese leader was “trying very hard.”

Trump spoke after U.S. national security leaders this week emphasized economic sanctions and diplomacy to persuade North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. At the same time, the U.S. is boosting its military presence in the area with an aircraft carrier battle group and submarine as it leaves open the option of striking first against Kim Jong Un’s regime.

“For the time being, the U.S. government is bluffing,” said Andrei Lankov, a history professor at Kookmin University in Seoul. “They are essentially doing what the North Koreans have been doing for decades — saber-rattling and chest beating. The major target is not North Korea but China.”

Lankov said the Trump administration wanted to convince the Chinese they faced the choice between full-blown war or undermining the North Korean economy, which might lead to unrest. “Trump has learned how to play games from Kim Jong Un,” he said.

McCain, a former Republican presidential nominee who has been critical of Trump on some international issues, told Bloomberg that Trump was aware of the risks of a preemptive strike on North Korea. He cited the likelihood of a retaliatory artillery attack on the South Korean capital.

‘Last Option’

“I hope there’s a lot more to go before we have a preemptive strike,” McCain said. “They are exploring every option and the last option — and the least desirable option — is armed conflict.”

McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, was speaking after the U.S.’s top Pacific commander, Admiral Harry Harris, testified before the panel.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will discuss North Korea with his counterparts at the United Nations Security Council in New York on Friday. In an interview with Fox News, Tillerson said China had warned Kim’s regime it would impose further sanctions if it conducted a sixth nuclear test.

China “confirmed to us that they had requested the regime conduct no further nuclear test,” Tillerson said. “We were told by the Chinese that they informed the regime that if they did conduct a further nuclear test, China would be taking sanctions actions on their own.”

Coal, Oil

China already banned coal imports from North Korea this year. The Global Times, a nationalist newspaper affiliated with China’s Communist Party, said China is bound to support more United Nations resolutions if North Korea continues with its weapons tests. It had previously warned a nuclear test might prompt China to restrict oil sales to the regime.

“As the situation in the Korean peninsula worsens, ties between the two countries may further deteriorate,” the paper said in an opinion article on Friday. “China should ready itself for unfriendly activities by North Korea.”

Tillerson reiterated the Trump administration wants to change North Korea’s perception that it needs nuclear weapons to ensure its survival. “We have been very clear we do not seek regime change in North Korea,” he said.

Asked whether he thought North Korea’s Kim was rational, Trump said he hoped so.

“He’s 27 years old. His father dies, took over a regime. So say what you want but that is not easy, especially at that age,” Trump told Reuters. “I’m not giving him credit or not giving him credit, I’m just saying that’s a very hard thing to do.”

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House Republicans fall short in scramble for vote on new health-care proposal – Washington Post

By Juliet Eilperin and David Weigel,

House Republican leaders scrambled unsuccessfully Thursday evening to muster enough votes to bring a health-care bill to the floor this week, after the latest changes intensified resistance among some moderates and key industry players.

The compromise that moderate Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) forged with the conservative House Freedom Caucus brought the party closer to unwinding the 2010 Affordable Care Act, giving it more support than it had when it abruptly pulled the measure last month from a planned floor vote.

But shortly after 10 p.m., leaders determined that they still lacked enough backing to pass it. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters that they are “still educating members” on the latest draft.

MacArthur’s amendment would allow states to opt out of two of the law’s central provisions: requiring coverage for “essential health benefits” such as maternity and preventive care; and barring insurers from charging people with certain preexisting medical conditions more than others in their general insurance pool.

The changes run directly counter to what President Trump pledged during last year’s campaign and since his election, and many lawmakers from swing districts remain hesitant to endorse them. Both Affordable Care Act provisions enjoy significant public support, and the amendment does nothing to alter the roughly $880 billion in Medicaid cuts outlined in the GOP’s American Health Care Act.

Outside of the Freedom Caucus, Republicans who had opposed the American Health Care Act grappled with the revised text. Most were still opposed or undecided on Thursday.

“We’re taking a trillion bucks out and saying, ‘Good luck, states,’ ” said Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.), whose district covers Reno and most of rural Nevada. “That may provide money to do tax reform, but what you leave in my state is that when the legislature meets, it’s got about a quarter-of-a-billion-dollar shortfall.”

[How the House GOP plan compares to the Affordable Care Act]

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) had told reporters earlier in the daythat he thought the latest proposal could win over moderates because it does not eliminate essential benefits altogether. Instead, states would be allowed to seek a waiver to define their own essential benefits, and if the federal government did not respond within 60 days to a request, the state’s changes could automatically go into effect.

“I’d argue that this is a bill a moderate would be more likely to support,” Ryan said. “Some people were concerned about [essential health benefits]. They’re now in the federal law, and a state would have to file a waiver. If anything, this puts more federal protections in.”

However, there was little evidence that MacArthur’s proposal had brought any of his fellow moderates on board. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who came around to “yes” when Republicans were preparing to bring the American Health Care Act to the floor last month, told a scrum of reporters that the latest amendment had thrown up “red flags” for him on issues such as preexisting conditions.

“At this stage, I’m not seeing much that I like,” Diaz-Balart said.

Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), who wrote in Mike Pence for president as his suburban district broke against Trump, announced he would oppose the bill. “It threatens to send premiums skyrocketing for people with preexisting conditions,” he said in a statement.

Since House leaders need 216 votes to pass a bill, and every House Democrat currently opposes their legislation, Republicans can afford to lose only 22 lawmakers. “We’re going to go when we have the votes,” Ryan emphasized, “but that’s the decision we’ll make when we have it.”

Before the Affordable Care Act became law, consumers who lost employer-based coverage bought plans on the individual market under a provision of the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. That law meant they could get coverage even if they had had prior medical issues, but they could be charged much more than other consumers.

Many were charged “four to five times the standard rate,” if not more, said Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “It’s really kind of deterrent pricing.”

As GOP leaders worked to win over undecided members this week, many powerful interest groups — representing the elderly, disabled, physicians, hospitals and those with chronic diseases such as cancer — lobbied the same lawmakers to reject the bill.

Rick Pollack, the president and chief executive of the American Hospital Association, said in a statement that the MacArthur amendment “would dramatically worsen the bill” and that it “continues to put health coverage in jeopardy for many Americans.”

And James L. Madara, chief executive of the American Medical Association, wrote in a letter to House leaders that “health-status underwriting could effectively make coverage completely unaffordable to people with preexisting conditions.”

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, which last weekissued a statement criticizing the MacArthur proposal, urged its members to call their representatives “to vote against the new version.”

[The new health-care bill may just be an exercise in blame-shifting]

But Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), a close ally of the president, said he was advising undecided moderates that any vote they cast — or do not cast — would be attacked by Democrats. “In a couple of cases, I’ve said, ‘Trust me, in a year and a half, you’ll see ads on TV attacking you on something,’ ” he said.

As a candidate and president-elect, Trump had repeatedly advocated preserving the Affordable Care Act’s protections for those with preexisting conditions.

“I want to keep preexisting conditions,” he said during a CNN-Telemundo debate in February 2016. “It’s a modern age, and I think we have to have it.”

And in a Nov. 13 interview with “60 Minutes,” he called the provision “one of the strongest assets” of the health-care law.

On Thursday, however, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the administration backed the latest version of the bill. He added that Trump is in no rush to get a health-care vote before his 100-day mark on Saturday. “He wants a vote when they have 216 votes,” Spicer said.

Paul Kane, Philip Bump and Amber Phillips contributed to this report.

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Get ready for tech giants to start churning out fake news to 'save' net neutrality – The Hill (blog)

Elections have consequences, and the 2016 presidential election is certainly having an impact on internet regulation—a very beneficial impact, in our view. But you won’t get that impression from social media or some of your favorite websites. So this is your warning—and your explanation. 

The new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ajit Pai, is determined to keep both the Trump administration’s commitment to eliminating harmful regulation and his own commitment to undo the two-year-old mistake of regulating the Internet under the old Title II analog Bell telephone monopoly laws written in the 1930s.

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Chairman Pai understands what he is up against and shows every sign of being braced for the coming fake news onslaught, and you should be as well.

To steel yourself for the upcoming furor, you must understand that there are players in the Internet economy who are not content to allow the Internet ecosystem to develop naturally.

In a free market system, we recognize that no one is smart enough to know in advance how a particular industry or market should look. So we allow markets to develop naturally based on the sum total of all the real-time decisions, investments and risk-taking made by all stakeholders, without the heavy hand of government trying to determine and distort the outcome. Think of the free market as a computer simulation and government regulation as a bug, and you get the idea.

But some very powerful players in the Internet ecosystem aren’t necessarily content with a market outcome. They want an outcome that advantages them. They gain from regulation, and they will use their access to consumers and lobbying clout to protect their position.

But what Pai is proposing is simply a return to the policies that Made the Internet Great.

For almost two decades, beginning with the Clinton administration, Congress and the FCC decided to take a light-touch approach to Internet regulation, and the Internet rewarded that approach with such incredible innovation that it has become essential to modern life.

Until the Obama administration got swamped in the 2014 mid-term election, that is.

After his disappointing mid-term, purely to fire up his dispirited troops, President Obama made a YouTube video calling for the reclassification of the Internet under 80-year-old laws. Those would would gain a favored position through regulation loosed the dogs of war, and a Democrat-controlled, no longer independent FCC complied.

In the last two years, the pace of investment in broadband infrastructure has declined and the rollout of access to unserved areas has slowed. Pai is absolutely correct to undo this mistake and reset Internet regulation to its previous, light-touch approach.

But in coming weeks it’s going to get ugly. Fake news and misleading rhetoric will flood social media, websites will go dark in protest or urge their users to oppose the FCC’s move. They will say the Internet is being censored, or turned over to big business, or that the free and open Internet will come to an end.

None of this is true. It’s simply a return to the original policies that allowed the Internet to grow and flourish, and a just-in-time reversal of nascent Big Government control over the Internet.

It’s going to be very difficult for opponents of reversing Title II to make sound legal arguments against the reset, since they spent years making the case that the FCC had precisely the authority to reclassify broadband as it saw fit.

Instead, what you’re about to see in the next few weeks and months is special interests trying to hang on to an advantage gained through government regulation through misleading and manipulating their users. Don’t be one of the manipulated.

Tom Giovanetti (@TGiovanetti) is president of the Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI), an independent, nonprofit public policy organization based in Dallas.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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