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House to vote Thursday on Obamacare repeal

Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), center, and Billy Long

Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), center, and Billy Long (R-Mo.), left, speak after meeting with President Donald Trump on the Republican health care bill on Wednesday, May 3, 2017. Photo Credit: EPA / JIM LO SCALZO

WASHINGTON — The House is scheduled to vote Thursday on a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, as Republican leaders expressed confidence that they had secured enough support for passage.

Hours earlier, two key Republicans who previously opposed the House GOP health care bill reversed course after they negotiated a change with President Donald Trump.

Support from moderate Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Billy Long (R-Mo.) provided much-needed momentum for Trump’s renewed push to advance health care legislation and fulfill a signature campaign promise.

“He said that this bill would be just as strong on pre-existing illnesses as Obamacare; I want him to keep that pledge,” Upton told reporters after meeting with Trump at the White House. “This amendment allows that to happen.”

The so-called Upton Amendment would provide $8 billion over five years for the coverage of pre-existing conditions.

To corral still more votes, Trump continued to dial up holdouts and Vice President Mike Pence visited Capitol Hill.

A first attempt by the White House and House GOP leaders to uproot Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, sputtered in March when House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) pulled the bill from the floor for a lack of votes.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer reiterated Trump’s guarantee that those with pre-existing conditions will be covered while acknowledging the revised American Health Care Act’s cost and impact are “literally impossible” to know now.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has not yet scored this version of the bill.

Spicer told reporters of the reach of the recent amendments: “For someone to know how many people that is, what number of states are going to . . . ask for and receive a waiver is literally impossible at this point.”

Long Island Republican Reps. Pete King of Seaford and Lee Zeldin of Shirley said they will vote yes on the revamped bill.

Before the last attempt at a health care vote in March was scrapped, King held back his support, saying he hadn’t made up his mind.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who wants Republicans to help improve Obamacare, tweeted that the Upton Amendment equated “trying to cure stage 4 cancer with cough medicine.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters, “What you would need is probably about $200 billion over 10 years. . . . It’s a very sad, deadly joke.”

Spicer said Trump is optimistic and added, “Our No. 1 goal is to get it out of the House, focus, and then have those conversations with the Senate.”

The administration and House members have indicated they expect additional changes and challenges from the Senate, where opposition from just three Republicans could doom the bill. Among other sticking points, conservatives want nothing resembling the mandates of Obamacare while moderates are fighting the scaling back of Medicaid.

Also Wednesday, the president hosted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House.

Trump said his administration may be the one to finally broker a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. “I would love to be a mediator or an arbitrator or a facilitator,” he said.

Abbas expressed Palestinian leaders’ support for a two-state solution and desire for a capital in East Jerusalem. He said they believe Trump is “capable” of delivering.

Trump said the Palestinians must speak in a “unified voice against incitement to . . . violence and hate.”

“I’ve always heard that perhaps the toughest deal to make is the deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” Trump said. “Let’s see if we can prove them wrong, OK?”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited with the president at the White House in February.

Spicer said Trump has been adept at forging personal bonds with state leaders as part of his approach to foreign policy.

“The president’s ability to connect with an individual, to work them towards a shared goal, to have backroom diplomacy is something that is going to continue to pay dividends,” he said.

With Tom Brune

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