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Health bill short on votes; GOP look to Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) - Short of votes for their health care bill, Republican congressional leaders turned to President Donald Trump on Thursday to wrangle support for the divisive legislation they hope to push through Congress before Easter. 

But Trump sounded more like he was at the start of a negotiation than ready to close the deal. And combined with opposition from Republicans of all stripes, the president's flexible stance suggested final passage of the bill could be delayed, potentially exposing the legislation to the same kind of extended public backlash that undermined former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act from the start.

"It's very preliminary," the president said of the House GOP bill in a Fox News Channel interview Wednesday, when questioned about reports the legislation would help Democratic voters more than those who elected him. "A lot of things aren't consistent. But these are going to be negotiated. ... We will take care of our people or I'm not signing it, OK, just so you understand."

Meanwhile, the House Budget Committee voted Thursday to narrowly advance the troubled Republican health bill, with defections by three GOP conservatives underscoring the obstacles party leaders face in maneuvering to avoid a stinging setback to their showpiece legislation after seven years of promises to repeal and replace "Obamacare."

The House GOP bill repeals elements of that law, including the "individual mandate" that penalizes people who don't have insurance. It sets up a new system of tax credits that is less generous, particularly to older Americans. It eliminates some of Obamacare's requirements for services health plans need to cover, and it sunsets an expansion of Medicaid over several years, an element causing great consternation with moderate-leaning Republicans but one that conservatives want to move up faster. 

The bill also cuts a slew of taxes, mostly to the benefit of the rich. Conservatives also say it doesn't go far enough in repealing the Obama-era law in full. 

House conservatives say they are negotiating changes directly with the White House, cutting out Speaker Paul Ryan and the rest of the House GOP leadership, while rebellious GOP senators were stoking the opposition. 

GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky met with House Freedom Caucus members Wednesday night, handing out copies of Trump's book "The Art of the Deal" along with a handout highlighting take-aways from the book that could be applied to the health care debate. 

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