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House to vote Thursday on Obamacare repeal bill as GOP health care bill clears initial hurdle


By ALAN FRAM and ERICA WERNER

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican health care bill leapt over a procedural hurdle and headed toward a showdown vote on final House passage Thursday. Leaders predicted they’d deliver a victory for President Donald Trump just six weeks after nearly leaving the measure for dead and days after GOP support seemed to crumble anew.

By a near party-line 235-192 vote, the House added several changes to insurance coverage requirements to the GOP’s prized legislation that leaders had promised to build support from wavering Republicans. A wafer-thin margin seemed likely on final passage, with opposition expected from every Democrat and more than a dozen Republicans.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer declined to say when a vote on an Obamacare replacement might happen, but he said the chances of a vote are, “greater and greater every day.” (May 3)

House approval would send the measure to an uncertain fate in the Senate, where some Republicans consider the bill too harsh. Polls have shown President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul — which the GOP bill would largely repeal — has actually gained in popularity as the debate over a replacement health care program has accelerated.

Since it collapsed in March, the measure was revamped to attract most hard-line conservatives and some GOP centrists. In a final tweak, leaders added a modest pool of money to help people with pre-existing medical conditions afford coverage, a concern that caused a near-fatal rebellion among Republicans in recent days.

GOP candidates including Trump have made repealing Obama’s statute an epitome of their campaign pledges since its enactment in 2010, claiming it’s a failing system that’s leaving people with rising health care costs and less access to care.

“It’s time to live or die by this day,” GOP leaders told the rank and file at an early morning, closed-door meeting to rally support, said Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla.

Democrats defended Obama’s law, one of his crowning domestic achievements, for expanding coverage to 20 million Americans and forcing insurers to offer more generous benefits. They said the GOP measure would toss millions off coverage while delivering tax cuts to the wealthy.

“How can you do this to the American people, how can you do this to the people you represent?” asked Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

The bitter health care battle dominated the Capitol even as Congress prepared to give final approval to a bipartisan $1 trillion measure financing federal agencies through September.

The House passed that legislation Wednesday 309-118, and Senate passage seemed certain as early as Thursday. That would head off a weekend federal shutdown that both parties preferred to avoid —especially Republicans controlling the White House and Congress.

The health care vote was scheduled after the White House and congressional leaders barraged rank-and-file holdouts with pressure in recent days and claimed they had the votes to prevail.

Just Tuesday, The Associated Press had counted 21 Republicans saying they would oppose the bill — one short of the 22 defections that would kill it if all Democrats voted no. Many others were undecided.

House passage would send the measure to an uncertain fate in the Senate, where some Republicans consider the House measure too harsh. Polls have shown Obama’s much-maligned law has actually gained in popularity as the debate over a replacement health care program has accelerated.

“House Republicans are going to tattoo this moral monstrosity to their foreheads, and the American people will hold them accountable,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Wednesday.

The bill would eliminate tax penalties Obama’s law which has clamped down on people who don’t buy coverage and it erases tax increases in the Affordable Care Act on higher-earning people and the health industry. It cuts the Medicaid program for low-income people and lets states impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients. It transforms Obama’s subsidies for millions buying insurance — largely based on people’s incomes and premium costs — into tax credits that rise with consumers’ ages.