WASHINGTON -- Republican leaders drove their long-promised legislation to dismantle Barack Obama's health care law over its first big hurdles in the House on Thursday, claiming fresh momentum despite cries of protest from right, left and center.
After grueling all-night sessions, the Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees both approved their portions of the bill along party-line votes. The legislation, strongly supported by President Donald Trump, would eliminate the unpopular tax penalties for the uninsured under the Affordable Care Act, replacing Obama's law with a conservative blueprint likely to cover far fewer people but -- Republicans hope -- increase choice.
The vote in Ways and Means came before dawn, while the Energy and Commerce meeting lasted past 27 hours as exhausted lawmakers groped for coffee refills, clean shirts and showers.
Angry Democrats protested that Republicans were acting in the dead of night to rip insurance coverage from poor Americans. But Republican leaders sounded increasingly confident that, after seven years of empty promises about undoing Obama's law, they might finally be able to overcome their own deep divisions and deliver a bill to Trump to sign.
"This is the closest we will ever get to repealing and replacing Obamacare," Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said at a press briefing where he arrived in shirt-sleeves to deliver a wonky power-point presentation on the GOP bill, part TED Talk and part "Schoolhouse Rock."
"The time is here. The time is now. This is the moment. And this is the closest this will ever happen," Ryan said.
Leaders are aiming for passage by the full House in the next couple of weeks, and from there the legislation would go to the Senate and, they hope, on to Trump's desk. The president has promised to sign it, declaring over Twitter on Thursday, "We are talking to many groups and it will end in a beautiful picture!"
Yet at the same time the president is leaving himself a political out, privately telling conservative leaders that if the whole effort fails, Democrats will ultimately shoulder the blame for the problems that remain. That's according to a participant in the meeting Wednesday who spoke only on condition of anonymity to relay the private discussion.
Democrats reject that notion, and the entire GOP effort. "What we have seen is the Republicans' long-feared and job-killing health bill that means less coverage and more cost to American people," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. "I don't think the president really knows what he's talking about."
The GOP legislation would kill Obama's requirement that everyone buy insurance by repealing the tax fines imposed on those who don't. The bill would replace income-based subsidies Obama provided with tax credits based more on age, and insurers would charge higher premiums for customers who drop coverage for over two months.
The extra billions Washington has sent states to expand the federal-state Medicaid program would phase out, and spending on the entire program would be capped at per-patient limits. Around $600 billion in tax boosts that Obama's statute imposed on wealthy Americans and others to finance his overhaul would be repealed. Insurers could charge older customers five times more than younger ones instead of the current 3-1 limit but would still be required to include children up to age 26 in family policies, and they would be barred from imposing annual or lifetime benefit caps.
Democrats said the Republicans would yank health coverage from many of the 20 million people who gained it under Obama's statute.