Ryan promises to keep government open — and makes no promises on health care

Washington Post

House leaders told GOP lawmakers Saturday that they plan to devote their energy this week to keeping the federal government open, conspicuously avoiding an immediate commitment to take up health care despite pledges to do so by conservatives and the White House.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaking on a conference call with GOP members, offered no specific plan on how or when lawmakers might see details of a new proposal to revise the Affordable Care Act, which White House officials promised would receive a vote by Wednesday.

Ryan also made clear that his top priority was to pass a stopgap spending bill to keep government open past April 28, an objective that requires Democratic support. "Wherever we land will be a product the president can and will support." Ryan said, according to a senior GOP aide on the call.

The call comes as GOP leaders find themselves trapped between proving that they can complete basic tasks of governing such as funding the government, while also meeting the demands of President Donald Trump, who is looking for a legislative win ahead of his 100th day in office next Saturday.

Ryan's comments suggested that he and other House Republicans have made the choice to focus on the former. He said, for instance, that the House will vote on a health-care bill when Republicans are sure they have the support to pass it, according to several GOP aides on the call - suggesting that he does not believe that to be the case currently, despite renewed negotiations between House conservatives, moderates and the White House.

Ryan encouraged members to continue discussing ideas, but he did not open the call for questions, leaving members to wait until Wednesday morning before they can weigh in on spending or health care.

Trump and his top aides have been calling on Congress to take dramatic action in the coming week: vote on health care, take up tax reform and demand that Democrats agree to a stopgap spending measure that includes funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Ryan attempted to calm the disorder Saturday by telling members that repealing the Affordable Care Act remains a priority but urging them to focus on the immediate task of the budget negotiations, according to the aides on the call. Ryan has vowed for weeks that there will be no government shutdown, and many Republicans and Democrats have said in recent days that negotiations are proceeding apace.

At the same time, Trump has publicly downplayed the significance of achieving a victory in the coming week. He dismissed the symbolism of the 100-day mark - despite his repeated promises on the campaign trail that he would meet many of his goals by that date.

He also began walking back the health-care promise after signs emerged that GOP leaders were not prepared to take it up because of the risk that it would anger Democrats.

"We'll see what happens," Trump said on Friday. "No particular rush, but we'll see what happens."

Then, on Saturday, Trump added to the confusion with a promise to release details of a tax overhaul next week.

"Big TAX REFORM AND TAX REDUCTION will be announced next Wednesday," he tweeted.

Less clear was what will come of Trump's desire to include funding for a border wall in the stopgap measure.

On Saturday, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly suggested in an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper scheduled to run Sunday morning that Trump may demand the funding.

"I think it goes without saying that the president has been pretty straightforward about his desire and the need for a border wall," Kelly said. "So I would suspect, he'll do the right thing for sure, but I would suspect he will be insistent on the funding."

The comment is likely to further threaten bipartisan budget talks, which were jostled after Trump's budget director, Mick Mulvaney, announced last week that the White House would demand border wall funding in the upcoming spending bill. Such a demand would almost certainly prompt Democrats, whose support is needed to pass the budget bill in the Senate, to vote no.

Aides on the Hill and inside the White House, who spoke candidly on condition of anonymity, said they believe Trump sees a demand for wall money as the best way to prove that his most controversial proposals can be fulfilled.

"This president should be allowed to have his highest priorities funded even though the Democrats rightly have a seat at the table because of the Senate rules," Mulvaney said Friday in an interview with Bloomberg Live. "You cannot expect a president who just won election to give up very easily on his highest priority."

That demand came as a surprise to Democrats who have been working for more than a month with GOP leaders to craft a bipartisan spending bill that would keep the government open through the end of the fiscal year on September 30. The bipartisan talks were seen as a rare bright spot in an otherwise acrimonious, bitter relationship between Republicans and Democrats in Washington. One particular area of agreement was not to include border-protection funds in the stopgap budget, which, it was agreed, should be debated separately, after government is kept open.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said leaders in Congress could reach a spending agreement, but only the White House stays out of the negotiations.

"I want to come up with an agreement," Schumer said Tuesday on a conference call with reporters. "Our Republican colleagues know that since they control, you know, the House, the Senate and the White House, that a shutdown would fall on their shoulders, and they don't want it."

The Washington Post's Damian Paletta contributed to this report.

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