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House Committees Begin Debate On Republican Health Care Bill


On Capitol Hill, two House committees are debating the Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The Ways and Means Committee is going over the bill's tax provisions while the Energy and Commerce Committee is looking at the changes to the actual health care part of the law.

NPR health policy correspondent Alison Kodjak joins us now from the Capitol. And Alison, this bill was long in coming. It's important to millions of Americans covered under the Affordable Care Act and to Republicans who've long wanted to do away with Obamacare. What's happened so far in these two committees?

ALISON KODJAK, BYLINE: So both Democrats and Republicans on these committees started with opening statements where they made their cases for and against the law. But in both rooms, things began to devolve pretty darn quickly. They were bickering over procedure. They were bickering over how long their opening statements could be, how many amendments they could offer.

Congressman Greg Walden - he's the chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee. This is what happened when he just tried to introduce the bill.


GREG WALDEN: That is not how this is going to work. The chair recognizes himself for...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Well, Mr. Chairman, I have a motion.

WALDEN: ...The purposes of offering an amendment. In the nature of a...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Mr. Chairman, I have a parliamentary...


WALDEN: The clerk will report the amendment.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No, Mr. Chairman, a parliamentary inquiry...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Inaudible) Mr. Walden...

WALDEN: Gentleman will suspend, the clerk will report the...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Parliamentary inquiry, Mr. Chairman...

KODJAK: So you know, it was a little bit crazy in there. Right after that, they actually had a vote on whether or not to postpone the markup for a whole month. And then one Democrat demanded that they read the entire bill. They usually just waive the reading. So for more than an hour, two clerks in the room took turns reading the entire text of the proposed law.

SIEGEL: Was there any actual debate or just parliamentary confusion today?

KODJAK: There was some debate. Democrats have been arguing that the Republican plan is going to take health care away from lots of low-income people. And here's Congressman Mike Doyle from Pennsylvania making his opening statement.


MIKE DOYLE: Today, Republicans give you survival of the fittest, starring health care for the healthy and wealthy. For the rest of Americans, you're going to pay more money. You're going to get less coverage.

KODJAK: So but Democrats, you know - they can't really kill this bill because they don't have the votes, so they came in ready to fight every step of the way. They say they have more than a hundred amendments to offer. And by mid-afternoon today, they hadn't even started debating those changes.

SIEGEL: And where were Republicans during all this?

KODJAK: Well, several Republicans decided not to even make an opening statement, but those that did made the argument that Obamacare has just failed, and this bill is going to fix it. Here's what Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers from Washington said.


CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS: We're on a rescue mission. Obamacare, though well-intentioned, has failed. It's failed in its goals, and it has failed in its promises.

SIEGEL: Now, all this was at the Energy and Commerce Committee. There was also another committee meeting, the Ways and Means Committee - any progress there?

KODJAK: They - well, they did get to amendments, but that hearing was pretty much equally contentious. The Democrats spent a lot of time criticizing Republicans for cutting taxes on insurance industry executives, and they actually went through the salaries of a lot of those insurance industry executives one by one. And they spent a good part of their hearing today arguing that President Trump should be releasing his own taxes - so not a lot of debate on the specifics of their bill.

SIEGEL: You've related some of the tension between Democrats and Republicans - democrats obviously widely opposed to this bill. Was there any sign of the Republicans who were opposed to this bill? Did they speak up in either committee so far as you know?

KODJAK: They didn't speak up in the hearing rooms today. Those Republicans aren't really well-represented on these two committees, but they have been making statements outside the hearing room, saying that they still oppose this bill. These are Republicans who see the proposal in the law that gives people refundable tax credit as a new entitlement that they don't want to have added to the federal law.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's health policy correspondent Alison Kodjak. Alison, thanks.

KODJAK: Thanks, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alison Fitzgerald Kodjak is a health policy correspondent on NPR's Science Desk.

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