Republicans rush Obamacare repeal-and-replace through House committees

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of La., left, joined by Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., holds up a copy of the original Affordable Care Act bill during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 8, 2017, as the GOP leadership talks about its work on the long-awaited Republican plan to repeal and replace
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., holds up a copy of the original Affordable Care Act during a news conference in Washington on March 8, 2017. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

WASHINGTON — House Republicans continued to push their controversial bill to repeal and replace Obamacare through two committees Wednesday evening, as angry Democrats sought to delay the votes as long as possible.

Republicans on the Committee on Ways and Means voted down Democrats’ numerous amendments, one by one, and ignored their repeated complaints that the majority was rushing through a vote to change the nation’s health care system without first receiving an estimate of its cost and impact from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

“Why are we rushing?” Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., demanded.

“Why mark up this bill … before we get a score from the CBO?” asked Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Mich. “I think the answer may be that you’re fearful that the CBO will provide answers to questions that you don’t like.”

“You’re afraid of sunshine,” Levin added.

Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, replied that the CBO score would be out early next week before the full House voted on the legislation. Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee appeared ready to work through the night in order to vote their portion of the bill out of committee, while the process seemed to be moving slightly more slowly in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which was also debating part of the bill Wednesday. The plan is for the Budget Committee to combine the two halves and vote on the complete bill after it passes in the committees.

Democrats on Ways and Means attempted to amend the bill to allow states to opt out of it, to ensure that no family with an income under $250,000 would see their taxes increase under the bill, and to delay the bill’s implementation until after the CBO certified that no one would lose insurance coverage under the plan. Democrats also attempted to amend the bill to require President Trump to release his tax returns. Each amendment was voted down by the committee’s Republican majority.

Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee were forced to move more slowly. They read the entire health care replacement bill out loud upon Democrats’ demand.

A similar gambit started by Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., failed in the Ways and Means Committee. “I think you’ve had ample time to read these 57 pages over the past 48 hours,” Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, retorted.

Though Republicans were speeding through the bill’s initial hurdles in the House, their caucus is far from unified on the legislation. The conservative “Freedom Caucus” objects to the tax credits in the bill, calling them a new “entitlement,” and is opposed to the temporary continuation of expanded Medicaid coverage. On the Senate side, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has called the House bill “Obamacare Lite” and said it would be dead on arrival in his chamber. Moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said it would not be “received well” in the Senate and, in an interview with Yahoo News’ Katie Couric on Wednesday, urged her counterparts in the House to slow down.

Trump, who has called the bill “wonderful,” said it’s also open for negotiation. The president invited Republicans skeptical of the bill to a bowling party at the White House this week as part of a blitz he has planned to support the bill.

“We are out in full sell mode all around the country, talking about how we think this is the best way to solve the problem that the American people face,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Wednesday.