Republicans entertained a fresh White House offer to revise the party's failed health care bill Tuesday as the GOP tried to resuscitate the measure that crashed less than two weeks ago. But the proposal was getting mixed reviews from both conservative and moderate lawmakers, raising doubts about the rescue mission.
"We're at the concept stage right now," said House Speaker Paul Ryan. The Wisconsin Republican said he believed his party was moving toward consensus but conceded he didn't know if the House would vote on the measure before beginning a two-week recess later this week.
Vice President Mike Pence, who's been touting the administration's new bid to congressional Republicans, said Tuesday that he and President Donald Trump were optimistic.
"The president and I remain confident that working with the Congress we will repeal and replace Obamacare with health care reform that will work for the American people and work for the American economy," he said.
Pence and two top White House officials made the offer Monday night in a closed-door meeting with members of the House Freedom Caucus, participants said. Opposition from the hard-line group, which has around three dozen conservative Republicans, helped prompt Ryan to withdraw the bill from a March 24 vote that would have produced a certain defeat.
Under the White House proposal, states could apply for federal waivers from several coverage requirements that President Barack Obama's 2010 health care law imposes on insurers.
These would include waivers from an Affordable Care Act provision that obliges insurers to cover "essential health benefits," including mental health, maternity and substance abuse services. The current version of the GOP legislation would erase that coverage requirement but would let states reimpose it on their own.
"The biggest change was putting the essential health benefits back in," said Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y. "That really took some Tuesday Morning group folks to yes from no," he said, using the name of an organization of House GOP moderates.
The White House offer would also let states seek an exemption to the law's requirement that insurers must offer coverage to people with serious diseases. Conservatives have argued that such requirements have the effect of inflating insurance costs.
Freedom Caucus members said they wanted to see the White House offer in writing — expected Tuesday — before deciding whether to accept it. In the meantime, caucus chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., called Monday's session a "good meeting."
One member of that caucus, Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., said Tuesday he remained opposed to the legislation. He said states should be allowed to unilaterally opt out of Obama's insurance requirements, not seek federal permission to do so.
"It is wrong to require the states to come to Washington, D.C., on bended knee," Brooks said.
Another member of the caucus—Scott Perry of Pennsylvania—cited previous rewrite problems.
"We've had the same kind of conversations in the past. And then when you see the language, it isn't what you spoke about," Perry said.
Moderates expressed a reluctance to vote quickly on a new bill.
"If leadership hasn't learned the lessons of the failures of two weeks ago, then they'll bring something forward where nobody knows about it and try and get it passed," said Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Ohio.
When Ryan pulled the legislation from the House last month, he had faced opposition from moderate GOP lawmakers upset that it went too far with cuts in Medicaid coverage for the poor and higher premiums for many low earners and people in their 50s and 60s.
Also at Monday evening's meeting with conservatives were White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and budget director Mick Mulvaney.
The details of the conservatives' meeting with Pence and others were described by Meadows and another participant who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private strategy session.
The Freedom Caucus has drawn the most wrath for its opposition to the bill. Trump has tweeted threats of opposing members' 2018 re-elections, and fellow House Republicans have accused them of inflexibility that led to the downfall of the bill.