It didn’t take long for the political theater to start.
Within 10 seconds of committee chair Greg Walden, R-Ore., starting his opening statement, he was interrupted by ranking member Frank Pallone, D-N.J., who argued that Democrats should have more time to speak against the bill.
Walden rejected the argument, and New Mexico Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Lujan was peeved.
“Are you serious? This is ridiculous,” Lujan said.
Are you serious? This is ridiculous.
Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M.
The exchange foreshadowed hours of political chest-beating from both parties, as the two House committees tasked with debating House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Obamacare replacement plan spoke for hours without advancing the bill.
The rush to repeal the Affordable Care Act came to a grinding halt as two House committees failed to do much of anything with the GOP legislation, which has come under assault from its conservative base. Democrats forced the Energy and Commerce Committee to read the bill aloud in an effort to stall, while Republicans said the bill fulfills a promise made to the American public after the November election.
Republican leadership had hoped to introduce the bill and advance it through two powerful committees in the same week, all before the Congressional Budget Office could determine the full cost and impact of the measure.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said the CBO will provide a “thorough, deliberate analysis” of the measure in time for the Budget Committee to consider it.
“We’re all God’s children, we all want a CBO score,” said Republican Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas.
We’re all God’s children, we all want a CBO score.
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas
That wasn’t enough for Democrats.
“We are being asked to vote without knowing how much it costs and without knowing what size it is – how many (people) it covers and how many millions of Americans are once again being left out. If you have nothing to hide, a week will not impair your effort,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas.
In the Energy and Commerce Committee, the only substantive changes offered to the bill in over four hours of debate on Wednesday were two amendments offered by Barton that could appease some conservative opposition to the plan.
The first amendment speeds up the freeze for Medicaid expansion to January 1, 2018, from fiscal year 2020. The second amendment establishes January 1, 2023, as a firm phase-out end date for Medicaid expansion. Currently, the bill does not offer a specific end date.
“You’ve got the policy question and the political question,” Barton said in an interview with McClatchy. “On the policy question, there’s not a Republican, conservative reason to oppose what I’m trying to do. Even from a moderate Republican standpoint it allows states to expand, if they want to, their Medicaid populations the rest of this year. On the political equilibrium question that leadership has to decide: If we lose conservative votes because we are not accepting my amendments, does that make it difficult, if not impossible, to pass the bill on the floor?”
None of the about a dozen Republican members who have expressed opposition to the bill were part of the committee markups on Wednesday, meaning official opposition will have to wait until the bill reaches the House Budget Committee next week. There, conservatives such as Reps. Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Dave Brat of Virginia could offer amendments to alter the legislation.
“I think you’re going to see at each stage of the process, some amendments, some tweaking,” Barton said. “I think the budget committee will make some changes, I think the rules committee might make some changes and I think on the floor there might be some amendments offered and accepted. The Trump administration supports the bill in its form but they’ve also indicated they are open to amendments.”
Republican Study Committee chair Mark Walker, R-N.C., indicated to reporters that Barton’s amendment, if passed, combined with changing tax credits to make them partially refundable, would move him to a “hard yes” on the bill. Walker, who leads a group of 172 conservative members, expressed reservations about the bill when it was released on Monday.
As for markups that showed no signs of stopping on Wednesday afternoon, Barton had no timeline when the debate might end.
“I think Chairman Walden is being very gracious,” Barton said.