WASHINGTON — A new push to pass GOP legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act will take months, not days, House Speaker Paul Ryan indicated Wednesday, as the latest talks among Republicans produced no apparent breakthrough.
“We’ve got a couple months at least,” the Wisconsin Republican said in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Wednesday.
“We’ve gotten pretty far in coming together,” he said, “but I also think we’re not there yet — because the stakes are so high, and people are just having to get used to” being the governing party.
Ryan broadly defended his stewardship on the issue and what he portrayed as a leadership style of “nudging” his colleagues, not bullying them.
“Leadership can’t be autocratic. I’ve watched that. It doesn’t work,” said Ryan. “I’m not an arm breaker.”
While discussions between Vice President Pence and House Republicans on health care briefly stirred talk of legislative movement this week, Ryan played down the notion of quick action, saying members were “shopping concepts to each other.” Ryan met with Pence at the White House Wednesday evening. The House begins a two-week recess next week.
At a forum Wednesday hosted by the website WisPolitics.com, Ryan said of a health care bill, “We can keep working this for weeks now.”
GOP leaders had expressed far more urgency when they scrambled unsuccessfully for votes last month. In the end, Ryan was unable to generate enough Republican support for the bill to pass it, so he called off a planned March 24 vote.
But in an interview Wednesday with the Journal Sentinel and the Associated Press, Ryan said he had “built cushions into our schedule” to accommodate delays or setbacks.
“The president wanted us to get it going ... we wanted to meet that aggressive time table. But we’ve always had more time, and we’re now using that,” he said.
The health care defeat was a major political blow to Ryan, and polls suggest it has left his public standing in shaky condition.
In a national survey by Quinnipiac University released Monday, the speaker was viewed favorably by just 28% of voters, and unfavorably by 52%. Only 21% approved of the job Republicans are doing in Congress, while 70% disapproved.
In an earlier poll by Quinnipiac, the GOP health care bill Ryan was pushing only drew 17% support.
“I’ve long believed we have to do very difficult and challenging things to get this country back on track, and the process of doing this may not be popular at the moment,” Ryan said in the interview. “It’s very disruptive. It’s high stakes, and of course it’s controversial … I am unconcerned about popularity and polling when I’m focused on advancing our principles and policies that we believe are necessary to get the country back on track.”