Andrew Harnik, Associated Press
President Donald Trump pauses while speaking at a rally at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky., Monday, March 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — President Donald Trump is deploying an outside and inside strategy to fulfill his campaign promise to repeal and replace "Obamacare," seeking support beyond Washington before making an in-person pitch on Capitol Hill. Top House Republicans unveiled proposed changes in their legislation in hopes of winning support, three days before the big House vote.
Trump rallied supporters Monday night in Louisville, Kentucky, alongside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., after meetings and phone calls in Washington aimed at steadying the troubled legislation designed to erase President Barack Obama's signature health care law. He planned to court House Republicans on Tuesday.
"We want a very big tax cut, but cannot do that until we keep our promise to repeal and replace the disaster known as 'Obamacare,'" Trump told the crowd of thousands in Louisville. "This is our long-awaited chance to finally get rid of 'Obamacare.' It's a long-awaited chance. We're going to do it," he said.
With their showpiece bill revamping the 2010 health care law at stake, House GOP leaders released 43 pages of revisions to the legislation in hopes of rounding up votes.
The measure would pave the way for the Senate, if it chooses, to make the bill's tax credit more generous for people age 50 to 65. Details in the documents released were unclear, but one GOP lawmaker and an aide said the language sets aside $85 billion over 10 years for that purpose.
The measure would also accelerate the repeal of tax increases on higher earners, the medical industry and others to this year instead of 2018. It would be easier for people to deduct expenses from their taxes, and older and disabled Medicaid beneficiaries would get larger benefits.
It would also curb future Medicaid growth and let states impose work requirements on some recipients.
Many GOP opponents were unhappy that nonpartisan analysts said their party's legislation would drive up costs for older people. The leaders' changes were aimed at addressing those concerns.
Trump resumed his campaign-style events at the start of a consequential week for his young presidency. Confirmation hearings for his nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, opened Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The House was expected to vote Thursday on the GOP-backed health care bill.
Trump's Louisville rally, his third since his inauguration, followed a daylong congressional hearing in which FBI Director James Comey acknowledged for the first time that the agency was investigating whether Trump's campaign colluded with Russian officials seeking to influence the 2016 campaign.
Many hard-line conservatives have pushed for a more complete repeal of Obama's law, including its requirement that policies cover a long list of services, which they say drives up premiums. They also complain that the GOP bill's tax credits create an overly generous benefit the federal government cannot afford.
Moderate Republicans, meanwhile, have said the tax credits are too limited and would hurt low earners and older patients. They also worry the plan would leave too many people uninsured, pointing to a nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office analysis that estimated 24 million people would lose coverage over 10 years.
At the rally, Trump suggested he wasn't wedded to the current version of bill. "We're going to negotiate. And it's going to go to the Senate and back and forth," he said, assuring that the "end result is going to be wonderful and it's going to work great."
The White House was trying to win over conservatives who are part of the House Freedom Caucus, including the group's chairman, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C. Meadows joined two Senate conservatives, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, for a weekend meeting at Trump's Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, with top White House aide Steve Bannon and other White House officials.
The rally Monday night was the Trump administration's second high-profile event in Kentucky in 10 days and took the president to the home state of one of the most outspoken critics of the plan, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. Vice President Mike Pence was in Louisville earlier this month to build support for the Trump-backed bill.
Paul said Monday to a group of Louisville business leaders that he hoped the Republican bill would fail so that "true negotiations" could begin. The senator, who was re-elected last year, has dismissed it as "Obamacare lite" and asserted that the bill had no chance of becoming law.
comments on this story
Paul was not attending the rally, saying he planned to fly back to Washington to continue building a coalition to defeat the plan.
But Trump called him out nonetheless, saying he hoped Paul would come onboard.
"I happen to like a lot Sen. Rand Paul. I do," Trump said. "He's a good guy. And I look forward to working with him so we can get this bill passed, in some form, so that we can pass massive tax reform, which we can't do until this happens. So we gotta get this done."
Thomas reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.