Spicer Vaguely Says GOP Is Getting ‘Closer’ To Obamacare Repeal Deal

White House Press secretary Sean Spicer speaks to the media during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Friday, March 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer played down a House conservative hardliner’s suggestion this week that Republicans were near a deal that would revive their failed Obamacare repeal bill, perhaps even before the end of April’s congressional recess.

Spicer at his Tuesday press briefing vaguely suggested that Republicans were getting “closer and closer every day” in shoring up the votes that would make the repeal bill, the American Health Care Act, passable in the House. But he added that he didn’t “want to prejudge the outcome at this point.”

“I think we’re good with the direction that this is going, as long as it continues to grow the vote,” Spicer said. “A lot of these provisions that are being discussed give states the flexibility to enact certain provisions, which is consistent with our general philosophy of giving more competition and more choice to the people in the states.”

House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows (R-NC), who leads the group of hardliners who have pushed for a bill that guts the Obamacare’s patient protections, told a North Carolina radio station on Monday that he was “very close” to pulling together an agreement and already had presented two options to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).

In a Tuesday interview with USA Today, Meadows added that the plan was in “final negotiations” between Vice President Mike Pence and Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), the co-chair of the moderate Tuesday Group.

“What I’m getting to [Ryan] is based on conversations that I’ve had with Tom MacArthur and leadership, but I wouldn’t say that it’s approved at this point,” Meadows told USA Today. “What we’re trying to do is work through issues that are important to all of us but make sure that pre-existing conditions are taken care of.”

He said that it was possible that Ryan would call the House back from recess if consensus was reached around an agreement.

Asked about those comments, Spicer said the White House felt “buoyed by the direction this is going.”

“With respect to a couple of the proposals that Congressman Meadows is suggesting, part of those has to be again figuring out whether or not those attract additional votes and gain additional support and don’t detract,” Spicer said. “I know it sounds very simple, but that’s what this entire process has been about.”

Without more details or a sense of a shift in the whip count, it’s hard to tell if such momentum is real or just another round of GOP kabuki theater as the Trump administration gets closers to the 100 day mark without having moved an Obamacare repeal bill—or any other major legislation—successfully through a congressional vote.

The American Health Care Act, which would have repealed much of Obamacare’s taxes, reworked its subsidies, scaled back its market reforms and gutted Medicaid,
was pulled dramatically from the floor last month after it became clear it did not have the votes to pass. Since then some Republicans have expressed optimism that the legislation was salvageable, particularly after top White House officials hosted meetings before the recess to bridge the gaps between the GOP’s centrist and far-right flanks that both resisted the bill.

But that round of talks fell through, and Republicans were stuck hosting a rushed House Rules Committee hearing on a tweak to the bill that didn’t appear to change the fundamentals of its whip count. It did at least gave them a sign of progress to take home with them over the Easter break, however.

GOP congressional leaders have largely signaled that they were putting energy into tax reform, the next item on the GOP’s agenda, while letting the rank-and-file discuss working on a compromise amongst themselves.

“Member discussions continue but I have no schedule update to report,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong told USA Today.