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GOP House leader says there are ways Republicans can forge ahead on health care

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, left, confers with Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.), the House Rules Committee chairman, during a March 22 meeting on Capitol Hill to shape the final version of the Republican health-care bill before it went to the floor for debate and a vote. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

HOOD RIVER, Ore. — Rep. Greg Walden, who helped craft the failed House GOP health-care proposal as a key committee chairman, said Tuesday that Republicans may have to wait even longer to act on it.

Walden, an Oregon Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the GOP may have to use a future budget measure to pass its version of repealing and replacing Obamacare.

“You could make an argument that says, ‘Okay, we couldn’t get it done now,’ ” Walden said in an interview.

“We’ve had people tell us: ‘Why take this on first? You should have done infrastructure, you should have done tax reform,’ ” he added. “It may be where we end up.”

Walden was referring to the stalled American Health Care Act — which he and other senior Republicans, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) — attempted to pass before lawmakers left Washington for a two-week recess. Ryan ultimately did not bring that bill to the House floor after negotiations with conservatives and moderates fell apart amid bitter infighting. Trump backed the plan and lobbied members to support it. But he vowed to move on after the plan’s implosion and seek the passage of his other legislative priorities.

The president may have changed his mind, however. In an interview with Fox Business on Wednesday, Trump said that health care must come first before he turns to other items on his agenda, such as a tax-code rewrite and a $1 trillion infrastructure plan.

“Health care is going to happen at some point,” Trump told Fox. “Now, if it doesn’t happen fast enough, I’ll start the taxes. But the tax reform and the tax cuts are better if I can do health care first.”

But the AHCA failure significantly complicates things in terms of timing and process. Republicans are using special budget rules to smooth the passage of several top priorities, including a health-care and tax revamp. Those rules allow them to pass measures with a simple majority in the Senate instead of the 60 votes typically needed to enact legislation in the Senate, where they are not expected to get any Democratic support. (Republicans have 52 seats in the Senate.)

Walden noted in the interview that health care could be considered in next year’s budget bill. “I’m not saying this is going to wait until next year, but you will have another budget next year,” he explained.

It is unclear whether Walden was referring to the 2018 budget bill, which Republicans had intended to use as a vehicle for the tax overhaul that Trump now says could be on hold. The president acknowledged in the interview that the failure to enact a health-care measure means that the party has not achieved the expected savings needed to pay for a reduction in tax rates.

Walden insisted that despite GOP disarray, the health plan is still “alive,” pointing to efforts by Vice President Pence and other White House officials to rally support on Capitol Hill.

“There’s a lot of pressure at the end to get something going,” he said.

Much is riding on the GOP effort to overhaul the Affordable Care Act. Many Republicans gained their seat in past elections on promises to repeal it, and the law’s marketplaces are facing serious difficulties amid reduced plan offerings and hiked premiums.

Walden called it “frustrating” for Republicans to falter so publicly in their efforts toward that end.

“Legislating’s not’s easy, especially on something this big that matters so much to peoples’ lives, and I’d rather take the time to get it right,” he said.