Tuesday 20 March 2018

Trump fails to rally enough support to pass healthcare bill

Bill battle: President Trump
Bill battle: President Trump

Nick Allen and  Harriet Alexander in Washington and New York

President Donald Trump's cornerstone campaign pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare was thrown into turmoil last night as Congress postponed a vote on the measure for at least a day.

Mr Trump and his Republican allies, led by House Speaker Paul Ryan, had hoped to pass the proposed American Health Care Act, known as "Trumpcare" yesterday. But they failed to achieve enough support from conservative rebels within their own party who said the reforms did not go far enough.

Although the stalled bill could still come to a vote in Congress in coming days, and perhaps as soon as today, it was a stinging setback and raised doubts about Republicans' ability to push through laws enacting Mr Trump's key campaign pledges.

The promise to repeal 'Obamacare' was key to Republicans keeping control of Congress, and to winning the White House, in November's election.

The bill was held up by members of the Freedom Caucus, a conservative group of Republican politicians. Congressman Mark Meadows, chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said there was "no deal" with the Republican leadership.

Mr Meadows said he personally was still a "No" vote and he had told Mr Trump personally. But he praised Mr Trump, saying: "The engagement of the president [on this] is unparalleled in the history of our country. The Freedom Caucus is committed to working with the president to get this done."

He said last night, the seventh anniversary of former president Barack Obama signing his Affordable Care Act into law, had been an "artificial deadline imposed on ourselves" .

An extra 20 million people gained health insurance under Obamacare. The Republican healthcare bill would halt Mr Obama's tax penalties against people who refuse to pay for insurance and cut government financial assistance for the poor, instead providing tax credits.

It keeps some parts of Obamacare, including forcing insurers to accept people with pre-existing conditions, but members of the Freedom Caucus, and many Americans who voted for Mr Trump, wanted wholesale repeal.

Mr Trump issued a rallying cry to his millions of followers on Twitter to phone the offices of their congressmen and demand they vote for the bill.

In a last-minute attempt to save his flagship healthcare reform Mr Obama said: "This fight was about more than healthcare, it was about the character of our country. This fight is still about all that today."

Meanwhile, Mr Trump said yesterday in an interview that he had been proved "right" about controversial claims that the Obama administration spied on him, and declined to apologise for saying Britain's GCHQ carried out the surveillance.

Mr Trump's declaration followed revelations from Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, that the names and communications of Mr Trump and his team appeared in intelligence reports as part of an "incidental collection".

The president told 'Time' magazine: "So, that means I'm right. Who knows what it is? You know why, because somebody says 'incidental'. [We] were under surveillance during the Obama administration, following November's election. Wow."


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