House Budget Committee Chair Diane Black, R-Tenn. by Rep. Todd...

House Budget Committee Chair Diane Black, R-Tenn. by Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., and panel staff member Jim Bates, center, works on the Republican health care bill, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March, 16, 2017. Credit: AP

WASHINGTON — A key congressional committee rapidly and narrowly approved a Republican health care bill Thursday, in a vote that exposed GOP divisions over the plan to replace Obamacare.

In doing so, House Republicans continued a breakneck pace that they and President Donald Trump have tried to set to undo the nation’s current health care laws. Democrats said the pace was alarming and not well vetted by the public.

The House Budget Committee approved the GOP bill, known as the American Health Care Act, 19-17, with three Republicans breaking away to join Democratic opponents. Three members of the “Freedom Caucus” — among the most conservative Republicans — voted no: Reps. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), Dave Brat (R-Va.) and Gary Palmer (R-Ala.). None explained their vote.

Though the bill was advanced, the vote illustrated the division in Republican ranks about the bill and the timeline for perhaps supplanting Obamacare. And it came one day after House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) conceded the bill would have to be altered before winning congressional approval. Vice President Mike Pence reportedly met with GOP lawmakers late Wednesday to address their concerns about the bill.

The committee vote means the bill will go to the House Rules Committee and could make it to the full House before its April recess.

Though Democrats argued the bill was being rushed and voted on “without a single public hearing,” Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) said Congress can’t afford to wait.

“Thirty percent of counties have only one plan left,” Grothman said, referring to the lack of insurance-company competition in some parts of the nation. “If we wait another year, many won’t have any.”

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) said the Republican plan relies on a “fantasy” that the free market will generate sufficient insurance coverage, especially for the poor and elderly. Yarmuth decried that a bill introduced just days ago is “being rushed” to the “House floor as soon as Republican leadership can get it there.”

“If I were them I would not want to talk about this bill either. I certainly would not want to defend it,” Yarmuth said.

The three New York members of the committee voted on party lines: Rep. John Faso (R-Kinderhook) voted yes; Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) and Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo) voted no.

Jeffries, like other Democrats, seized on an analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, that the plan would result in 24 million fewer people having health insurance in the next 10 years. The analysis said fewer people would be getting care through Medicaid and many elderly would drop coverage because it would no longer be affordable because of a reduction in tax credits and subsidies now provided under Obamacare.

“Donald Trump made three promises to the American people about health care. One: Everybody will be covered. Two: It will be more affordable. Three: (Coverage) will be better,” Jeffries told his colleagues. “It is a fraud. It is a sham. It is a charade. It is a Hollywood-style production that will destroy health care in America.”

Jeffries co-sponsored a motion to strip from the bill tax cuts for big earners; it failed on party lines.

Faso said the Democrats merely were looking to score political points and didn’t offer an idea that “fixes anything.”

“It is typical Washington-speak,” Faso said. “That’s the problem . . . people are sick and tired of what Washington does — which, too often, is nothing.”

Several Republicans acknowledged the plan needed more work,

Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), the committee chairwoman, called the bill “the conservative health care vision that we’ve been talking about for years” and called the bill a “good first step.” She urged skeptical Republicans to keep an open mind and not “cuf off discussion.”

Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), who was jeered at a recent public meeting in his district, signaled Republicans might want more changes to the proposal.

“Nobody is pretending the bill before us is complete plan or even a comprehensive plan,” he said. He said while Democrats were knocking Trump’s promises, he would remind them that then-President Barack Obama’s vows that consumers would be able to keep their health plans if they like it and that premiums would decline, didn’t prove out.

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