Politics

Exclusive: White House, Paul, Lee Keep Health Care Deal Alive

Priebus huddles with conservative senators, makes progress on potential Obamacare bargain

After Republicans spent much of the day Tuesday pledging to press ahead on health care reform, the White House appears to have found a possible path forward thanks to critics of its first attempt to dismantle Obamacare.

Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) met with White House chief of staff Reince Priebus Tuesday evening, a senior White House official with knowledge of the conversation told LifeZette.

“I know that we’re all going to make a deal on health care, that’s such an easy one.”

The pair of conservative senators — two of the most influential opponents of the American Health Care Act, the reform legislation that failed spectacularly on Friday — appeared to make progress toward supporting the White House-backed plan in the talks with Priebus. Paul and Lee were not that far apart from the White House on key points for a new Obamacare repeal bill during their talk with Priebus, according to the senior official.

At the heart of Paul and Lee’s concerns was an item Paul addressed at a Capitol Hill rally on March 15: the ability of small groups and individuals to join policy associations — like pools or co-ops — to gain greater leverage over health insurers and bring down insurance premiums.

The issue has been a consistent sticking point for Paul.

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“My replacement strategy is let everybody in America join a buy-in group,” Paul told host Lou Dobbs during a March 22 interview on Fox Business. “I’m not for subsidizing and keeping the prices up for insurance companies, I’m for giving everybody the ability and freedom to join a group to bring prices down.”

To Paul and Lee, the concession would represent a major free-market victory. To the White House, it could be seen as a small price to pay in order to revive an Obamacare repeal plan.

The two senators and Priebus discussed at least one potential challenge of including the reform: The change may be difficult to survive the restrictive procedures of budget reconciliation. The trio discussed the careful way reform language would have to be crafted in order to survive a likely court challenge, the White House source said.

The talks likely took place before or after Tuesday night’s bipartisan reception for U.S. senators and their families at the White House.

The senior official told LifeZette the White House and the two senators shared a renewed sense of urgency to keep the dialogue moving on health care due to its implications for other policy areas. The health care bill was supposed to make it easier to pass tax reform later in the year.

“Things are going well,” Conn Carroll, a spokesman for Lee told LifeZette in response to a request for comment.

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, did not deny earlier in the day that health care talks were ongoing, but said there was no specific strategy underway “at this time.”

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said Republicans were closer to a deal on Tuesday than they were on Friday during a Tuesday morning news conference.

Trump made clear on Tuesday night that he agreed a deal was near, speaking publicly to senators gathered at the White House.

“I know that we’re all going to make a deal on health care, that’s such an easy one,” Trump said, according to NBC News. “So, I have no doubt that that’s going to happen very quickly. I think it will actually, I think it’s going to happen.”

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Political reporter, LifeZette. Indiana University journalism grad. Boston U. business grad. Former Indiana, Alabama statehouse reporter, Daytona Beach editorial writer.

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