Republicans celebrate as Trump scores victory over Obamacare

Activists hold signs during a Stop 'Trumpcare' rally. Picture: Getty

Relieved Republicans have muscled their healthcare bill through the US House of Representatives, taking their biggest step towards dismantling Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul since Donald Trump took office.

They won passage only after overcoming their own divisions that nearly sank the measure six weeks ago.

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Jubilant Republicans, celebrating what they hope will soon be the demise of Obamacare, sang the pop song Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye as the end of the voting neared.

The measure skirted through the House by a thin 217-213 vote, as all voting Democrats and a group of mostly moderate Republican holdouts voted no. A defeat would have been politically devastating for Mr Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan. The passage came as a product of heavy lobbying by the White House and Republican leaders, plus late revisions that nailed down the final supporters needed.

The bill now faces an uncertain fate in the Senate, where even Republican politicians have said major changes are likely.

“Many of us are here because we pledged to cast this very vote,” Mr Ryan said. He added: “Are we going to keep the promises that we made, or are we going to falter?”

Leaders rallied rank-and-file politicians at a closed-door meeting early yesterday by playing Eye Of The Tiger, the rousing song from the 1980s film Rocky III.

Republicans have promised to erase Mr Obama’s healthcare law since its 2010 enactment, but this year – with Mr Trump in the White House and the party controlling both houses of Congress – is their first real chance to deliver.

But polls have shown a public distaste for the repeal effort and a gain in popularity for Mr Obama’s statute, and Democrats – solidly opposing the bill – said Republicans would pay a price in next year’s congressional elections.

“You vote for this bill, you’ll have walked the plank from moderate to radical,” said House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, warning Republicans that voters would punish them. “You will glow in the dark on this one.”

The bitter healthcare battle dominated the Capitol even as Congress prepared to give final approval to a bipartisan $1 trillion measure financing federal agencies until September. The House passed that legislation on Wednesday, and certain Senate passage will head off a weekend federal shutdown that both parties preferred to avoid.

Mr Ryan cancelled a March vote on the healthcare bill because disgruntled conservatives said the measure was too meek, while Republican moderates said its cuts were too deep.

He abandoned a second attempt for a vote last week. As late as Tuesday, there were 21 Republican opponents – one short of the number that would kill the measure if all Democrats voted no.

Over the past few weeks, the measure was revamped to attract most hard-line conservatives and some Republican centrists.

In a final tweak, leaders added a modest pool of money to help people with pre-existing medical conditions afford coverage, a concern that caused a near-fatal rebellion among Republicans in recent days.

The bill would eliminate tax penalties in Mr Obama’s law which has clamped down on people who do not buy coverage and it erases tax increases in the Affordable Care Act on higher-earning people and the health industry.

It cuts the Medicaid programme for low-income people and lets states impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients. It transforms Mr Obama’s subsidies for millions buying insurance – largely based on people’s incomes and premium costs – into tax credits that rise with consumers’ ages.