U.S. Republican lawmakers will map out strategy for enacting President Donald Trump’s agenda of repealing and replacing Obamacare and overhauling the tax code as they gather in Philadelphia on Wednesday for a three-day policy retreat.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are expected to huddle with the lawmakers on Thursday. British Prime Minister Theresa May will also visit on Thursday and is expected to discuss plans for a possible U.S.-U.K. trade deal.
House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan has set a goal of enacting at least two major pieces of domestic legislation before the congressional recess in August, according to lobbying and congressional sources.
During his presidential campaign, Trump offered up an ambitious agenda he said he would quickly pursue in the White House, from building a wall on the border with Mexico to easing Dodd-Frank banking regulations.
Obamacare repeal and tax reform are emerging, however, as the top priorities for congressional Republicans.
While there is broad enthusiasm about the idea of swift action in those two areas, the challenge for Trump and congressional Republicans will be getting lawmakers to coalesce around specific plans.
A Republican aide said House Republicans were “nowhere close” to deciding on a replacement for the Affordable Care Act, former Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law known as Obamacare.
Congress is under pressure from Trump to act quickly. But some congressional Republicans have expressed concern about starting a repeal without clarity about how to replace a law that has expanded health coverage to millions.
U.S. Representative Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican, told reporters on Tuesday he hoped lawmakers would use their retreat to have a “sober discussion” on what is politically possible on replacing Obamacare.
Republicans have called Obamacare federal government overreach and have sought to undermine it in Congress and the courts since it was passed by Democratic majorities in the House and Senate in 2010.
Democrats say Obamacare has allowed growing numbers of Americans to get medical insurance and helped slow the rise in healthcare spending.
Trump, who took office on Friday, has sent mixed signals about what he wants from a replacement plan for Obamacare. He told the Washington Post he wanted insurance for all, but his staff now says it wants all Americans to have access to affordable healthcare.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said on Sunday the Trump administration would not allow the 20 million people who rely on Obamacare for their health insurance to go without coverage when the law is repealed and replaced with a new plan.
Republican leaders also have to explain and build support among members for a complex tax reform package, backed by Ryan, that includes an unusual proposal to encourage exports and penalize imports through the tax code. A framework for legislation could surface as early as next month.
The retreat will provide an opportunity for Trump and his staff to build a rapport with lawmakers, many of whom have had little contact with the president, a New York businessman with no government experience before taking office.
Some lawmakers were rattled this week as the White House grappled with controversies over Trump’s statements over the crowd size at his inauguration and his allegations of voter fraud in the U.S. election.
“I hope he gets more focused on policy,” Dent said. “Crowd size doesn’t matter.”
(Writing by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Caren Bohan and Peter Cooney)