Trump remarks latest evidence of health care law repeal slowdown

President Donald Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A House conservative leader called Monday for votes "as soon as possible" on legislation voiding and replacing the health care law, even as President Donald Trump's latest remarks conceded that the effort could well stretch into next year.

"Maybe it will take till sometime into next year, but we are certainly going to be in the process," Trump said in an interview with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly that was broadcast Sunday. While saying he expected something "fairly soon," he added, "I would like to say by the end of the year, at least the rudiments. But we should have something within the year and the following year."

The comments come as congressional Republicans continue laboring to deliver on a promise they've been making for years: that they will repeal President Barack Obama's 2010 health care overhaul and replace it with an alternative.

They also come as constituents supporting Obama's law have made life uncomfortable back home for some Republican lawmakers. Reps. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., and Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., faced pointed questions from voters in recent days in scenes reminiscent of 2009, when tea party voters noisily confronted congressional Democrats at town hall meetings.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, said late Monday that there's "growing consensus" among members of the hard-line conservative group for quick votes on repealing Obama's statute and replacing it that would be held simultaneously, or at worst within days of each other.

"Repeal and replace as soon as possible gives us a lot more credibility" with voters, Meadows said in an interview after his group discussed their health care strategy in an evening meeting without approving a formal position. Meadows, whose organization claims around 40 House GOP lawmakers as members, said delays in producing a Republican replacement plan create "unnecessary anxiety on behalf of our constituents."  

Meadows said Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., is working on legislation similar to a bill by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., that's winning support among conservatives. That measure would eliminate requirements in current law that insurance policies cover specified benefits such as maternity and mental health; expand tax-advantaged health savings accounts and let insurers sell policies across state lines.

A House health subcommittee planned Tuesday votes on a pair of minor bills making it harder for people to avoid counting some forms of income -- including lottery winnings -- used to determine if they qualify for Medicaid, the health program for low-income people.

Republicans pushed back Monday against the notion that their work was slowing.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said there were "relatively minor differences" among Republicans and dismissed what he said were reporters' efforts to "manufacture divisions" in the party.

"I have little doubt that we can work through whatever differences do exist and, more importantly, I think we will," he said on the Senate floor.

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said he was sticking to the deadline set by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to pass an initial bill by late March repealing and replacing parts of the statute.

"We're continuing on a good, deliberate, pretty steady pace," Brady told reporters.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said he thinks Congress will enact legislation this year, though it would take a couple of years for the new law to be implemented.

Republicans have called health care their top priority. Trump said in January that the measure was nearly finished and would be ready "soon."

But the GOP has yet to unite behind an alternative, with divisions over what to do about Medicaid, the law's taxes and how to protect insurers and consumers during a transition to a new system. And some Republicans have begun using the less threatening term "repair" to describe their goal.