March 16 (UPI) -- The House Budget Committee on Thursday narrowly voted to advance the American Health Care Act with three conservatives joining Democrats' unanimous rejection of the bill.
The Republican bill to replace former President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, passed the committee on a 19-17 vote. Three Republicans -- Reps. Dave Brat of Virginia, Gary Palmer of Alabama and Mark Sanford of South Carolina, all House Freedom Caucus members -- rejected the bill.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has pressed for the bill's passage, said committee approval is an important step, but that it will still be "improved and refined." On Monday, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said the bill would provide relief for the federal budget, but it would result in 24 million more uninsured Americans over the next decade.
Democrats have seized on the CBO analysis to call on Republicans to pull the bill and leave the existing healthcare system in place.
"You see the resistance in the Senate to the House bill," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday. "Some in the Senate, the Republican senators, are saying, 'I hope it dies in the House so we don't even have to consider it.' But if it doesn't die in the House, this speaker has asked his members to walk the plank on a very bad bill that has damaging consequences across the country that might not even become law. Then they've walked the plank for nothing."
The AHCA faces another committee before it goes to the House floor for a vote. Budget Committee Chairman Diane Black, R-Tenn., called the AHCA "a once-in-a-generation entitlement reform."
"I strongly support this bill. I urge all of my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, to work with us to pass this important piece of legislation and bring relief to the American people," Black said. "To my Republican colleagues who have doubts today, I encourage you: Don't cut off discussion. Stay in this effort and help us enhance this proposal by advancing it out of committee and pushing for further conservative reforms. Members who desire to see this bill improved have every right to make their voices heard."
Some conservatives have criticized the AHCA -- calling it "Obamacare Lite" -- as not doing enough to revoke the ACA's measures.