U.S. Republicans Hit New Snags in Push to Revive Health Care Bill

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In this March 8, 2017, photo, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. speaks during a news conference at the Republican National Committee Headquarters on Capitol Hill in Washington. House Republicans are working on a companion to their bill replacing “... Obamacare,” a legislative second act that would ease cross-state sale of health insurance and limit jury awards for pain and suffering in malpractice lawsuits. The problem: the so-called “sidecar” bill lacks the votes in the Senate. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Prospects faded on Wednesday for quick Obamacare repeal and replacement legislation in the U.S. Congress as a renewed effort by the White House could not end infighting by Republican lawmakers over healthcare policy.

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One outside conservative group said progress on a healthcare bill had "stalled" in talks between Republican conservatives and moderates, who had hoped to patch up differences this week.

Heritage Action Chief Executive Mike Needham told reporters his group was even looking at ways to target House moderates known as the Tuesday Group, with attack ads in their districts and other tactics.

But House Speaker Paul Ryan told a forum that the discussions had been "very productive" and emphasized that Republican leaders have not set a deadline for agreement.

"We can keep working this for weeks now," Ryan said. "We've got time to figure this out."

Republicans have been railing against President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act since its enactment in 2010. On Tuesday, some Republican lawmakers expressed hope the Trump White House would unveil a healthcare bill. Some conservatives said a vote by the House was possible this week.

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The legislation has not yet emerged, despite talks with Republican lawmakers led by Vice President Mike Pence. A House Republican leadership aide said on Wednesday that plans remained on track for the divided chamber to begin a more than two-week recess by mid-afternoon on Thursday.

Representative Mark Meadows, chairman of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, late on Tuesday said, "There’s a concern on my part that if we’re making real progress, that going home sends the wrong message."

Still, the negotiations will allow lawmakers to return to their home districts and tell voters they are trying to deliver on a campaign promise that helped them win election.

In an interview with Axios and NBC television, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Republicans will produce a healthcare bill, but did not provide a timetable.

Late on Tuesday, following a closed-door meeting with House Republicans, Pence told reporters there was "good talk, good progress" toward a bill. He did not elaborate.

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Republican lawmakers have said efforts are focused on maintaining Obamacare's essential health benefits, such as mental health coverage and maternity care. But states could apply for waivers if they could improve coverage and reduce costs.

If major portions of Obamacare are repealed, there were discussions of creating a "backstop" so premiums do not spike for people with chronic illnesses in high-risk insurance pools. 

(Reporting By Yasmeen Abutaleb and David Morgan, Writing By Richard Cowan; Editing by David Gregorio)

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