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GOP, Trump gather to debate healthcare, taxes on 2017 agenda

By
Eric DuVall
U.S. President Donald Trump gives the thumbs up Thursday as he walks from the Oval Office to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C. Trump is to address the Republican retreat in Philadelphia later in the day. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI
U.S. President Donald Trump gives the thumbs up Thursday as he walks from the Oval Office to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C. Trump is to address the Republican retreat in Philadelphia later in the day. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 26 (UPI) -- Congressional Republicans gathered in Philadelphia for meetings Thursday on a range of domestic issues, from healthcare reform to tax cuts and immigration to set the party's agenda for 2017.

The GOP's annual retreat will be visited by President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and British Prime Minister Teresa May, all of whom are scheduled to address lawmakers in the coming days.

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House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell met with reporters at the outset of the retreat, but offered few details on what specific proposals lawmakers were hoping to craft during the meetings.

Previous retreats have not necessarily yielded deals on specific legislation, but allowed rank-and-file members to express their priorities to leadership in an effort to settle on a broad set of principles to pursue when they return to Washington to begin the new session.

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At the top of the list is healthcare. Republicans have said they will repeal President Barack Obama's signature Affordable Care Act. How to do so -- and what they will replace it with -- has been the subject of heated debate. Some conservatives favor a blanket repeal, while others, including Trump, have suggested Republicans should maintain some of the law's more popular provisions. Republicans must also answer the obvious question: What will happen to the 20 million Americans who have purchased insurance using the ACA's healthcare exchanges, and paid for it partly with government tax credits, all of which would be gone if the law is repealed.

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One Republican told The Washington Post the sessions have included "zero specifics" on how to proceed on healthcare reform.

Ryan was also cagey on tax cuts, telling reporters the issue is "complicated" and the party must figure out what cuts should be included in their proposal and whether they would primarily benefit individuals or businesses.

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On immigration, Ryan and McConnell said congressional Republicans are prepared to appropriate $12 billion to $15 billion for construction of what Ryan called a "border fence." Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order for the construction of a wall on the southern border, saying U.S. taxpayers will initially foot the bill but Mexico would pay the United States back.

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Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Wednesday reiterated his stance that Mexico would not pay for the wall, and on Thursday canceled his planned trip next week to meet with Trump.

Protesters outside the hotel where the retreat meetings are taking place blocked the entrance for a time Thursday. Philadelphia police on bicycles guarded the entrance and kept protesters largely at bay.

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