By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump met briefly with Republicans in Congress on Tuesday to consolidate support for a plan to overhaul the Obamacare healthcare law with a partial replacement, the biggest legislative effort of his presidency so far.
"Terrific people. They want a tremendous healthcare plan, that's what we have," Trump told reporters at the U.S. Capitol after speaking to Republicans from the House of Representatives behind closed doors.
Republican leaders recrafted the House bill on Monday to satisfy critics - mainly fellow Republicans - in part by proposing major changes to tax credits and provisions to alter the Medicaid insurance program for low-income people.
The House leadership needs to win over conservatives who believe the bill does not go far enough in repealing the law, as well as moderate Republicans who fear dismantling former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act will hurt millions of Americans.
Party leaders hope to move the legislation to the House floor for debate as early as Thursday. But the administration and House leadership can only afford to lose about 20 votes from Republican ranks or risk the bill failing.
"There are going to be adjustments made but I think we'll get the vote on Thursday," Trump said.
In seeking their support, Trump told the lawmakers that if the bill does not pass, it could cause "political problems," said Republican Representative Walter Jones.
Despite Monday's changes, the Wall Street Journal reported that the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative lawmakers, has enough votes to block the bill.
The Senate also will vote on the legislation and more changes could still be made.
Trump, who took office two months ago, told the lawmakers he thinks the American people are ready for change but did not talk "a whole lot about the healthcare bill except to vote for it," Jones said.
TRUMP COURTING REPUBLICANS
Trump was scheduled to speak with Republicans in the House Tuesday morning before later meeting on legislative affairs at the White House and then speaking at a Republican congressional dinner.
Vice President Mike Pence also will meet with Senate Republicans Tuesday afternoon.
At a rally in Kentucky on Monday night, Trump said he wanted to add a provision to the bill to lower prescription drug costs through a competitive bidding process. There was no such provision in Monday's changes.
Republican chairmen for two key committees late Monday said they proposed more funding for tax credits, which conservatives have opposed, that would give the Senate flexibility to help older people afford health insurance. Additionally, Obamacare's taxes would be eliminated in 2017 instead of 2018.
Monday's amendments also addressed Medicaid, the nation's largest health insurance program that covers about 70 million people, mostly the poor. The changes would allow states to implement work requirements for certain adults and to decide how they receive federal funds.
The Congressional Budget Office is expected to update its analysis of the legislation with the proposed changes after it said last week the original bill would cause 24 million to lose coverage over the next decade.
Democrats oppose Republicans' plan, which they say would throw millions off health insurance and hurt the elderly, poor, and working families while giving tax cuts to the wealthy.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason Susan Heavey, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Richard Cowan; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Bill Trott)