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Mike Pence: 'Congress needs to do their job' on Obamacare

072117 Leonard Pence Meeting photo
"Frankly, as the president said, any senator who doesn't vote to begin the debate is essentially telling the American people that they’re fine with Obamacare," Vice President Mike Pence said. "And that's just unacceptable." (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Vice President Mike Pence, telling Congress to "step up," said Friday that all Republican senators must vote next week to begin debate on legislation that would repeal parts of Obamacare.

"Congress needs to step up. Congress needs to do their job," Pence said at a meeting with business and conservative leaders at his office to discuss ways to encourage Republican holdouts to vote in favor of beginning debate. "Every [Republican] member of the United States Senate should vote to begin the debate to rescue the American people from the disastrous policy of Obamacare."

Republicans are aiming to vote on beginning debate next week on legislation that would repeal portions of Obamacare, though it isn't clear whether the final bill will offer provisions that would replace its healthcare provisions or whether they will vote for another bill that would give them two years to craft a replacement plan. Pence and President Trump have voiced support for both bills at various times.

Enough senators have come out publicly against each of the two bills to kill them, but negotiations are ongoing as GOP leaders aim to bring enough people on board to guarantee that a bill to repeal portions of Obamacare will pass.

At the meeting were representatives from conservative groups such as the Club for Growth and the American Conservative Union, business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and anti-abortion groups such as Susan B. Anthony List and the March for Life. Pence was joined by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. They made brief remarks but did not take questions from reporters.

"We just urge you in the days that remain now and this vote early next week to reach out to people across this country and them know that we are close; we are literally a few votes away from beginning the debate that will repeal and replace Obamacare in the United States Senate," Pence said.

Pence called the vote a historic moment and said that every Republican senator should support moving forward to debate the legislation.

"Let's send a very clear message in the days ahead that the beginning of the end of Obamacare is when Congress votes to start the debate that will repeal and replace this disastrous policy," he said. "Early next week every Republican in the Senate will be called upon to vote to begin the debate."

Price hinted that states would be posting public information about rate increases for insurers that are participating in the exchanges, saying that Congress needs to act to be able to move forward on addressing the issues. Insurers in some states already have posted double-digit premium increases, and others are fleeing the exchange, citing an unbalanced risk pool and uncertainty from the Trump administration and Congress about the future of Obamacare.

"There will be decisions that will be made over the next few weeks in states all across this land about what 2018 looks like from an insurance standpoint," Price said. "The decision that is made in the next few days in this town will dictate and determine what those decisions will be. This problem demands an act of Congress, so it's an act of Congress we must have."

If Republicans are unable to come to an agreement, they will have to work with Democrats to find a way to help the exchanges operate more smoothly than projected. That could involve injecting more federal funding into the system or suspending some of the law's taxes.

"Our message today is make sure the American people know that it's time for Congress to act. ... And frankly, as the president said, any senator who doesn't vote to begin the debate is essentially telling the American people that they're fine with Obamacare," Pence said. "And that's just unacceptable. Because we all know Obamacare is collapsing all across the country as we speak."

Republicans have struggled to come to a consensus on a healthcare bill. Centrists are concerned about changing the Medicaid program that covers low-income people, and conservatives are concerned that the bill that would replace Obamacare doesn't go far enough in rolling back the law or in reducing premiums.