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Mike Pence vows to 'get it done' on healthcare during Cleveland area visit

By SETH A. RICHARDSON • Jun 29, 2017 at 5:00 PM

WARRENSVILLE HEIGHTS — Vice President Mike Pence this week promised that Congress and the Trump administration would “repeal and replace” Obamacare, despite setbacks in the Senate.

Pence made the guarantee to a group of about 200 people on Wednesday at Tendon Manufacturing in Warrensville Heights, as well as to a private group of business owners he met with before the rally who expressed their frustration with the health care law.

Included in that group was Tom Secor, of Willard, president of Durable Corporation in Norwalk.

Secor was out of the office Thursday afternoon and unavailable for a comment.

"Every day Obamacare survives is a day the American people struggle," Pence said.

The vice president repeated several times that Congress was going to "get it done" and said he was still working on wooing U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican who said Tuesday he doesn't support the current version of the Senate healthcare bill.

Senate Republicans delayed a vote on the "repeal and replace" package they introduced last week after failing to garner enough lawmakers to support the measure. Moderates were struck by the steep cuts to Medicaid beginning in 2021 and far-right conservatives decried the bill as not going far enough.

Pence was instrumental in getting the House version of "repeal and replace" passed and could prove even more important to Senate negotiations.

When the House bill seemed doomed in March, failing to win support from both hard-line conservatives and moderates, Pence worked with leadership to woo enough members — mostly the like-minded far-right conservatives — into voting “yes” with minimal changes to the plan.

With the Senate’s version similarly stalled, Pence would serve as the tie-breaking vote should Senate Republicans reach 50 votes.

On Tuesday night, he was scheduled to meet with several conservative senators, including U.S. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who is currently a “no” on the bill.

Crucial to the healthcare vote’s passage is Portman. Republicans can only lose two votes, and with Portman not in an election year, it’s unlikely he will get a “pass” with other senators facing more rigorous electoral challenges in the immediate future.

Portman said Tuesday after Senate Republicans delayed the vote that he would not support the bill, citing concerns for cuts to combating the opioid epidemic. Pence lauded Portman during the Wednesday speech as one of the leaders in fighting the opioid abuse scourge.

Pence told the business owners during the healthcare roundtable that the Senate plan would actually expand options for Medicaid, allowing the state to have more flexibility in how it administers the program.

"This one-size-fits-all is literally collapsing in terms of Medicaid," he said.

Opinions from the crowd ranged on how best to handle health care, though most agreed some kind of repeal needed to go forward.

Tommie Jo Brode, a 44-year old attorney from Garrettsville, said she supported the Senate plan, though the pace was frustrating.

"I think it's slow, probably slower than I would prefer. But I do think it's important to get it right," she said. "In terms of the administration, all you can do is lead a horse to water, right? Congress needs to get moving."

Brandon Plevris, a 21-year-old student from Medina, said he thought the process was moving a little too breakneck. A piecemeal solution would be better, he said.

"Our party needs to work together,” he said. “Instead of fighting each other, we need to fight the enemy. Because there can't be infighting. Then you get nothing done.”

The business owners Pence met with before his speech expressed much of the same consternation as the rally attendees, citing mandates on businesses with more than 50 employees to provide coverage, increased administrative costs and rising premiums among their chief concerns.

Democrats preemptively strike

Democrats pounced at the opportunity to criticize Pence during his visit, even before he set foot on stage.

Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Mandy McClure said President Donald Trump and Pence were breaking their promises with the current plan working through Congress. Trump told The Washington Post in January his plan would include “insurance for everybody,” but the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated 22 million more people would be uninsured under the Senate plan.

“This bill is unconscionably cruel and increases the burden on Ohio workers, women, children, older Americans and middle class families and guts funding for those struggling with substance abuse, while giving the wealthiest Americans a huge tax break,” McClure said.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Toledo took to the House floor and said the GOP bill would hurt Ohioans.

“Ohioans should know the bill the GOP is trying to ramrod through Congress would threaten nearly one million Ohioans who gained coverage over the last few years through the Affordable Care Act," she said. "Further, seniors would see their premiums rise by four to five times as much with nothing being done to lower their cost of medicine.”

However, large protests didn’t break out in front of the manufacturing facility.

Ultimately, the crowd at the Pence visit was mostly supportive, pointing to faltering exchanges and insurers pulling out of the market.

The common thread, regardless of their level of support, was a need to change Obamacare.

"Maybe it takes through the Fourth of July," said Doug Deeken, Wayne County Republican Party chairman. "That seems likely. That's OK. But it needs to happen and it needs to happen fast. If we got this all worked out by the end of July, I think I'd be happy with that. Ultimately, Ohio needs certainty."

Other priorities

Pence also touched on other priorities for the administration, including bringing back manufacturing jobs, ending environmental regulations he felt were onerous to the business community, passing tax reform and increasing the budget for the military.

Pence said in the first five months of the Trump administration, more than 600,000 jobs were added to the U.S. economy, including 50,000 manufacturing jobs.

The vice president also heralded Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accords, an agreement by almost every nation in the world on how to combat climate change. Trump pulled out of the Paris Accords after saying the provisions of the non-binding agreement were too unfair for American business.

"Since the onset of this administration, this president has signed more laws cutting federal red tape than any president in American history," Pence said.

Before the rally, Pence also toured the manufacturing facility and to learn about the metal fabrication process.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Cleveland.com reporter Andrew J. Tobias contributed to this story.

 

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