Ryan falls short in first test of Trump presidency

 

March 25, 2017

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., pauses as he announces that he is pulling the troubled Republican health care overhaul bill off the House floor, short of votes and eager to avoid a humiliating defeat for President Donald Trump and GOP leaders, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, March 24, 2017.

WASHINGTON  House Speaker Paul Ryan guaranteed a win on the Republican plan to dismantle Barack Obama's health care law. Instead, he suffered a brutal defeat, cancelling a vote and admitting "we're going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future."

Friday's stinging rebuke is an ominous sign for President Donald Trump's agenda, from taxes to infrastructure to the budget. Looming in a few weeks is the need to agree on a bill to keep the government open. After the health care debacle, Trump told Republican leaders he's moving on.

The episode is a danger point for the relationship between Trump and Ryan, who had an awkward pairing during the campaign but worked in tandem on the GOP health measure.

"I like Speaker Ryan," Trump said. "I think Paul really worked hard."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., right, and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., react at a joke from Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., center, as he jokes while speaking at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, March 24, 2017.

Virtually every congressional Republican won election promising to repeal Obamacare. With a Republican in the White House, passage seemed almost guaranteed.

Ryan was steeped in the details, even at one point replicating for a nationwide cable news audience a detailed PowerPoint presentation he delivered to his members.

Earlier this month, he said flatly, "We'll have 218 (votes) when this thing comes to the floor, I can guarantee you that."

Ryan was thrust into the speaker's chair after the stunning 2015 resignation of John Boehner, R-Ohio, and a failed bid by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. At the time, Ryan held his dream job chairman of the powerful, tax-writing Ways and Means Committee but took the job as the last viable option to lead a fractured House GOP.

While Ryan eased comfortably into the job, he wasn't the schmoozer Boehner was, a key skill in delivering like-minded but reluctant lawmakers. He lacked the steel and seasoning of Democratic rival Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who delivered Obamacare in the first place and that took months, not weeks.

Even before the bill went down, Pelosi was piling on, taunting Trump and, by implication, Ryan, for rushing the bill to the floor too early.

"You build your consensus in your caucus, and when you're ready, you set the date to bring it to the floor," Pelosi said. "Rookie's error, Donald Trump. You may be a great negotiator. Rookie's error for bringing this up on a day when clearly you're not ready."

Ryan entered the health care debate without the experience of having ever managed a situation of such magnitude.

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. leaves the White House in Washington, Friday, March 24, 2017, after meeting with President Donald Trump.

"We were a 10-year opposition party where being against things was easy to do," a clearly disappointed Ryan said Friday. "And now, in three months' time, we've tried to go to a governing party, where we have to actually get ... people to agree with each other in how we do things."

During former President Barack Obama's tenure, Ryan had always been able to lean on Democrats to pass legislation Obama would sign.

On health care, however, Ryan could only count on Republicans, inheriting a fractious group that was schooled in opposing Obama, but lacking in the required team spirit to be a functioning, governing party.

It's a far different situation facing Ryan than he witnessed when joining the House in 1999. Then, Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and legendary Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, ran the House with a five-vote majority, instilling a team spirit that is wholly lacking today. Ryan also lacks the tools available to prior leaders, like hometown earmarks.

"It's sometimes easier to do things with a smaller majority, because you all realize you've got to stick together or you won't get anything done," said Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho. "When you get a bigger majority you have factions. And then the challenge is dealing with the different factions."

Instead, Ryan struggled and failed to thread the needle between conservative hardliners in the House Freedom Caucus and moderate lawmakers worried that the GOP measure would harm their constituents and their political prospects in midterm elections that promise to be bruising for Republicans.

While Trump focused on winning over the Freedom Caucus, Ryan failed to keep more pragmatic lawmakers like Rep. David Young, R-Iowa, in line. When Young announced his opposition, a superPAC affiliated with Ryan, the Congressional Leadership Fund, announced it would pull its support from Young.

To be sure, several factors conspired against Ryan.

Trump sometimes sent mixed signals about how solidly he was behind the effort. The White House is short-handed and its staff is inexperienced in the art of legislating.

And Ryan's vote-counting team failed to keep lawmakers from issuing public statements promising to oppose the bill. Allowing the chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., to walk away was another mistake

"I don't think this will impact Speaker Ryan because everyone in our conference, whether you're voting yes or no, does know he put his heart and soul into this," said Rep. Chris Collins, a Trump ally. "I am certainly not blaming Paul Ryan in the least."


No repeal for 'Obamacare'
Trump, GOP leaders pull bill without vote

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump and GOP leaders pulled their bill to repeal "Obamacare'' off the House floor Friday when it became clear it would fail. Democrats said Americans can "breathe a sigh of relief.'' Trump said the current law was imploding "and soon will explode.''  

Thwarted by fellow Republicans, from the center and far right, House Speaker Paul Ryan said President Barack Obama's health care law will remain in place "for the foreseeable future.''  

It was a stinging rebuke for the new president after he had demanded House Republicans delay no longer and vote on the legislation Friday, pass or fail. His gamble failed. Instead Trump, who campaigned as a master deal-maker and claimed that he alone could fix the nation's health care system, saw his ultimatum rejected by Republican lawmakers who made clear they answer to their own voters, not to the president.  

He "never said repeal and replace it in 64 days,'' Trump said at the White House, though he repeatedly shouted during the presidential campaign that it was going down on Day One of his term.  

The bill was withdrawn just minutes before the House vote was to occur, and lawmakers said there were no plans to revisit the issue. Republicans will try to move ahead on other agenda items, including overhauling the tax code.

Trump pinned the blame on Democrats.   

"With no Democrat support we couldn't quite get there,'' he told reporters in the Oval Office. "We learned about loyalty, we learned a lot about the vote-getting process.''  

The Obama law was approved in 2010 with no Republican votes.  

Despite reports of backbiting from administration officials toward Ryan, Trump said: "I like Speaker Ryan. ... I think Paul really worked hard.''  

Ryan told reporters: "We came really close today but we came up short. ... This is a disappointing day for us.'' He said the president has "really been fantastic.''  

But when asked how Republicans could face voters after their failure to make good on years of promises, Ryan quietly said: "It's a really good question. I wish I had a better answer for you.''   

Last fall, Republicans used the issue to gain and keep control of the White House, Senate and House. During the previous years, they had cast dozens of votes to repeal Obama's law in full or in part, but when they finally got the chance to pass a repeal version that actually had a chance to become law, they couldn't deliver.  

Democrats could hardly contain their satisfaction.   

"Today is a great day for our country, what happened on the floor is a victory for the American people,'' said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who as speaker herself helped Obama pass the Affordable Care Act in the first place. "Let's just for a moment breathe a sigh of relief for the American people.''  

Ryan was not able to corral the House Freedom Caucus, the restive band of conservatives that ousted the previous speaker. Those Republicans wanted the bill to go much further, while some GOP moderates felt it went too far.  

Instead of picking up support as Friday wore on, the bill went the other direction, with several key lawmakers coming out in opposition. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, chairman of a major committee, Appropriations, said the bill would raise costs unacceptably on his constituents.  

The GOP bill would have eliminated the Obama statute's unpopular fines on people who do not obtain coverage and would also have removed the often-generous subsidies for those who purchase insurance.  

Republican tax credits would have been based on age, not income like Obama's, and the tax boosts Obama imposed on higher-earning people and health care companies would have been repealed. The bill would have ended Obama's Medicaid expansion and trimmed future federal financing for the federal-state program, letting states impose work requirements on some of the 70 million beneficiaries.  

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the Republican bill would have resulted in 24 million additional uninsured people in a decade and lead to higher out-of-pocket medical costs for many lower-income and people just shy of age 65 when they would become eligible for Medicare. The bill would have blocked federal payments for a year to Planned Parenthood.  

Republicans had never built a constituency for the legislation, and in the end the nearly uniform opposition from hospitals, doctors, nurses, the AARP, consumer groups and others weighed heavily with many members. On the other side, conservatives groups including the Koch brothers argued the legislation did not go far enough in uprooting Obamacare.   

When Ryan made his announcement to lawmakers at a very brief meeting, he was greeted by a standing ovation in recognition of the support he still enjoys from many lawmakers.   

When the gathering broke up, Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee that helped write the bill, told reporters: "We gave it our best shot. That's it. It's done.
D-O-N-E done. This bill is dead.'' 
 


Associated Press