US President Donald Trump is scrambling to secure enough votes to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare) in the House of Representatives. The closely-watched decision will affect millions of American lives. There are signs that enough Republicans may defect to jeopardise one of Trump’s top legislative priorities.
Trump and fellow Republicans campaigned during 2016 elections on a promise to repeal and replace Obamacare, a program that aimed to boost the number of Americans with health insurance through mandates on individuals and employers, and income-based subsidies.
Their replacement plan would rescind the taxes created by Obamacare, repeal a penalty against people who do not buy coverage, slash funding for the Medicaid program for the poor and disabled, and modify tax subsidies that help individuals buy plans.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated 14 million people would lose medical coverage under the Republican plan by next year. It also said that 24 million fewer people would be insured by 2026.
Even if the legislation passes the House, it faces a second hurdle in the Senate, where a number of Republicans have spoken out against that version.
As speculation on the number of Republicans who would vote against the bill continued to fluctuate, the 7pm ET (midnight CET)deadline for the Thursday 23rd vote looked like it may be pushed back. House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions said it could take place anytime between Thursday and Monday.
As late as midnight on Wednesday 22nd March, Republicans remained split on whether to make additional changes to the proposal. Conservative Republicans are said to see the bill as too akin to Obamacare whilst some moderates fear it could weaken healthcare for millions. Trump’s bill, championed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, can only afford to lose 21 Republican votes if it is to pass.
Meanwhile Democratic representatives are united in their opposition to it. Democrat Steny Hoyer said that the Republican Party clearly lacked the votes to get the bill through the lower chamber.
In true form, Trump took to twitter to encourage US citizens to pressure their representatives to back “The American Healthcare Act” (AHCA) accusing Obamacare of offering “lies” and saying: “Go with our plan. It’s going to be terrific”.
Failure to get the legislation passed would cast a shadow of doubt over the rest of Trump’s agenda including his ambitious tax and investment reform policies. On Tuesday, the markets reacted to the uncertainty over the AHCA with the biggest one day drop since 8th November.
The prospect of voting on such an important bill just hours after it had been revised led to accusations of recklessness. “This health care repeal affects millions upon millions upon millions of Americans,” said Democrat Jim McGovern. “Don’t jam a disastrous bill through the House with patched-up fixes.”