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Dent sees focused bipartisan efforts to overhaul health care

Marc Levy, Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania gave a withering assessment of the Republican effort to undo President Barack Obama's signature health care law Monday, saying coalitions weren't built, its complexity was underestimated and artificial deadlines were set.

Dent, one of the most prominent Republican moderates in the U.S. House, said any successes in fixing or undoing portions of Obama's law will have to happen on a bipartisan basis, and in bits and pieces at a time.

"The question is, 'how much of a reform can we do?'" Dent said after speaking at the Pennsylvania Press Club in Harrisburg. "I suspect we're going to be ending up doing more incremental reforms to the law, as opposed to a massive overhaul."

The legislation that failed last week lacked crucial support from governors, health care providers or patient advocates, and Dent said the bill's architects did not make enough of an attempt engage them and build coalitions.

It was jammed into arbitrary timelines with artificial deadlines and saddled with the expectation that it would pave the way to a broad package of changes in tax laws, Dent said.

He also noted that there were various competing plans to replace Obama's law, but no consensus around one plan, and that proved damaging going into the debate.

"Over time, my colleagues didn't recognize the complexity of replacing Obamacare after it's been embedded for seven years," Dent said.

Dent announced his opposition to the GOP's health care package on Thursday night, and Speaker Paul Ryan pulled it from the floor on Friday for lack of support.

Dent also said any changes must be done with Democrats, despite the Republican majorities in the House and Senate.

House leadership must move away from trying to appease the House's most conservative members who are unlikely to vote for major legislation anyway, Dent said. Such accommodations drove away Republican moderates and precipitated an avalanche against the bill, Dent said.

With Congress expected to tackle major changes to tax laws and assemble an infrastructure package, Dent suggested that the collapse of the health care legislation should serve as a warning.

House GOP leaders were "making concessions to the people who aren't going to support the bill anyway. Can't do it," Dent said. "And that dynamic remains and it must change if we hope to get anything done on tax reform, on infrastructure or anything else."

To pass health care legislation, even if it's incremental, the GOP must change its rhetoric, Dent said.

"There's going to be partial repeals, partial replacement, reforms, overhauls, repairs and retentions, and we should try to get the product right before we start labeling whatever it is we're going to do," Dent said.

Democrats and Republicans both want to fix problems in the individual insurance market and repeal at least some of the taxes that underwrite coverage under Obama's law, Dent said.

"Well, why don't we start there?" Dent said. "There's a place to start. And we can negotiate this in Congress and send it off to President Trump. I think we can do it. I really do, so call me crazy or call me optimistic, but I think we can do it."