Obama urges lawmakers to make US healthcare system ‘better, not worse for hardworking Americans’ ahead of planned vote in House of Representatives
By Lauren Gambino in Washington / The Guardian / March 2017 09.03 EDT
Barack Obama on Thursday defended his signature domestic policy achievement, the Affordable Care Act, on its seventh anniversary, as Republicans’ attempt to repeal the law which expanded healthcare for millions of Americans teetered in the balance.
“America is stronger because of the Affordable Care Act,” Obama said in a statement marking the seventh anniversary of its passage.
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The future of the Affordable Care Act – and indeed the American healthcare system – was in question on Thursday ahead of a planned vote in the House of Representatives, a major step toward fulfilling the GOP’s longstanding promise to repeal the law.
Obama did not mention the Republican plan to undo the law, which introduced the greatest expansion of healthcare coverage in more than a generation, but urged lawmakers to work together to “make our healthcare system better, not worse for hardworking Americans”. It was one of his most significant interventions in US politics since he left office.
A day before, former vice-president Joe Biden appeared at a rally on Capitol Hill to defend the law. “It’s not going anywhere,” Biden said. “This bill isn’t going to pass.”
The House is poised on Thursday to vote on the Republican healthcare proposal despite widespread criticism and opposition from a coalition of hard-right conservatives who say that they have the votes to block its passage.
The stakes for Trump and the House speaker, Paul Ryan, who is spearheading the bill, are high. For seven years – and over the course of three election cycles – Republicans have run in and won elections on the promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
It’s passage is also the first major legislative test for Trump, who campaigned as a the brilliant negotiator behind the Art of the Deal. On the campaign trail, crowds thrilled to Trump’s promise to repeal Obamacare “on day one” and replace it with “something terrific”. Failure to pass this law could jeopardize Trump’s broader legislative agenda, which includes tax reform and border security.
In a private meeting on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, the US president reportedly warned Republicans that there could be political backlash if they fail to uphold their promises to repeal the ACA, popularly called Obamacare, and his press secretary Sean Spicer said: “I think there’s going to be a price to be paid but it’s going to be with their own voters.”
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“One of the reasons I don’t want this bill to fail is because I don’t want Paul to fail,” Mike Simpson, a Republican representative from Idaho, told reporters on Wednesday. “I want him to be successful.”
The embattled plan faces opposition from across the political spectrum and has been criticized by influential conservative groups, patient advocacy organizations and almost every corner of the healthcare industry.
A group of conservative donors, led by the powerful industrialists Charles and David Koch, announced on Wednesday that it was putting together a new fund for Republican re-election races in 2018 – excluding candidates who voted for the healthcare overhaul. They oppose the bill because they feel it does not scale back enough of Obamacare.
The negotiations are also complicated by a nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office report that estimated that 14 million people would lose their healthcare coverage in the first year under the Republican plan, and that insurance premiums for older Americans would rise dramatically. The forecast makes it difficult to see how Trump will keep the promise he made as president elect to create a plan that offers “insurance for everybody”.
The Republican plan, known as the American Health Care Act, removes ACA taxes, eliminates the requirement that all Americans have insurance and dramatically restructures Medicaid, the healthcare program for low-income Americans. Instead of subsidies, the plan would offer tax credits to help people purchase health insurance.
Eleventh-hour negotiations continued late on Wednesday night and into Thu