Bigger battle looms after vote to repeal Obamacare

US President Donald Trump speaking in the White House Rose Garden after the House of Representatives pushed through a healthcare Bill on Thursday.
US President Donald Trump speaking in the White House Rose Garden after the House of Representatives pushed through a healthcare Bill on Thursday.PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

Healthcare Bill now goes to the US Senate where Republicans hold just a slender majority

WASHINGTON • Even as US President Donald Trump celebrated his first big legislative victory as the House moved to repeal much of Obamacare, fellow Republicans braced themselves for an even bigger battle over the Bill in the Senate - and possible voter backlash.

In fact, Democrats in the House began singing, "Na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye" - a rowdy suggestion that Republicans will lose seats in the congressional elections next year because of their vote.

Thursday's vote by the House of Representatives to undo major parts of former US president Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement, which enabled 20 million more Americans to get health insurance, was Mr Trump's biggest legislative victory since he took office in January. It moved him a step closer to fulfilling one of his key campaign promises as well as a seven-year quest by Republican lawmakers.

It also marked a reversal of fortune for the Republican President, who suffered a stunning defeat in late March when House Republican leaders pulled legislation to scrap Obamacare after they and the White House could not resolve the clashing interests of Republican moderates and the party's most conservative lawmakers.

  • Tussle over healthcare

  • OBAMACARE PASSED

    Debate over whether the US government should fund some form of universal healthcare as medical costs sky-rocketed has raged for nearly a century.

    Former US president Barack Obama managed to get the Affordable Care Act (ACA), better known as Obamacare, through the US Congress in 2010. It has helped to provide health insurance to 20 million more Americans since then.

    REPUBLICANS OPPOSE ACT

    Republicans argue that Obamacare has hurt most Americans by causing an increase in their health insurance premiums and less choice of policies. They say it has also hurt large employers by requiring that they provide affordable health insurance coverage to full-time employees, among other problems.

    Republican Donald Trump vowed to "repeal and replace Obamacare", calling it a "disaster", and was narrowly elected US president.

    The new President immediately set out to deliver on his campaign promise. But Republican legislators were confronted by angry constituents at townhall meetings, who protested when they realised that they would lose their Obamacare medical coverage.

    COMPROMISE BILL DRAWN UP

    In March, Mr Trump's first attempt to end Obamacare ended in defeat when Republicans failed to win over conservative and moderate party members in the House of Representatives.

    With no legislative victories to show for his first 100 days in office, Mr Trump convinced Republicans to go back to the drawing board and come up with another healthcare Bill.

    Republicans quickly cobbled together a compromise called the American Health Care Act (AHCA). It would shift power to states to set important health insurance rules and end the ACA's subsidies for certain eligible people, among other provisions.

    VICTORY - FOR NOW

    On Thursday, the House narrowly passed the AHCA by a vote of 217-213, without a single vote from Democrat representatives.

    Mr Trump declared victory, but it could be short-lived. The new Bill must get the approval of the smaller US Senate before the President can sign it into law and he is not expected to, at least not in its current form.

    If the US Senate passes a revised form of the Bill, it must then go right back where it started - to the House. There, Republicans may baulk at any such changes.

    The debate over universal healthcare in the United States continues.

Mr Trump has called Obamacare a "disaster" and congressional Republicans have long targeted the 2010 law, formally known as the Affordable Care Act, calling it government overreach.

But despite holding the White House and controlling both Houses of Congress, Republicans have found overturning Obamacare politically perilous, partly because of voter fears, angrily expressed at their constituents' townhall meetings, that many people would lose their health insurance as a result.

With Thursday's 217-213 vote, Republicans obtained just enough support to push the legislation through the House, sending it to the Senate for consideration. No Democratic House members voted for the Bill.

Democrats say it would make insurance unaffordable for those who need it most and leave millions more uninsured. They accuse Republicans of seeking tax cuts for the rich, partly paid for by cutting health benefits.

The new legislation, called the American Health Care Act, is by no means a sure thing in the Senate. Republicans hold a slender 52-48 majority in the 100-seat chamber and only a few defections could sink it.

But within an hour of the vote, Mr Trump toasted House lawmakers in the White House Rose Garden. "I went through two years of campaigning and I'm telling you, no matter where I went, people were suffering so badly with the ravages of Obamacare," he said. "We are going to get this passed through the Senate. I am so confident."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 06, 2017, with the headline 'Bigger battle looms after vote to repeal Obamacare'. Print Edition | Subscribe