A group of conservative legislators within the US Republican Party said Wednesday that they had enough votes to block legislation backed by President Donald Trump to replace the current health insurance system.
The proposal to repeal and replace ex-president Barack Obama's signature health insurance law is supported by the White House and Paul Ryan, speaker of the lower House of Representatives, where the legislation is due to face a vote Thursday.
The House Freedom Caucus, a group of 28 Republicans in the chamber with ties to the small-government Tea Party faction, declared that at least 25 of its members would vote no. The group says the legislation leaves too much of the Obama law in place, giving consumers too few choices.
The conservative Republican Party has 237 seats in the 435-member House. With no legislators from Obama's left-leaning Democratic Party willing to support the current legislation, the reported defections would doom Thursday's vote.
"Start over," Freedom Caucus spokeswoman Alyssa Farah tweeted.
When Obama's Affordable Care Act passed Congress in 2010 the conservative Tea Party movement erupted in opposition to what conservatives considered to be an infringement on individual liberty.
Congressman Mark Meadows, chairman of the Freedom Caucus, tweeted that the proposed American Health Care Act (AHCA) "doesn't do what we promised" to lower the cost of health insurance.
"I'm still hopeful we can change the bill," he said. "I'll continue working around the clock to do so. But I cannot support the #AHCA as it stands."
Opposition Democrats, who held Congressional majorities when they passed the so-called Obamacare programme with no Republican support, rallied Wednesday on Capitol Hill to mark the seventh anniversary of the measure being signed into law.
"Improving the quality, lowering the costs, expanding access - those were the goals of the Affordable Care Act, which it has lived up to," said Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, leader of the House Democratic minority.
Democratic leaders in Congress, California Governor Jerry Brown and Joe Biden, who was Obama's vice president, attended the event on the Capitol steps.
It was unclear late Wednesday if the planned floor debate and vote Thursday in the House would go forward, or whether Republican leaders were still working to convince their sceptical members.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer refused to comment on the vote count but insisted that the legislation was gaining momentum.
"Member by member, we're seeing tremendous support flow in our direction, and the count keeps getting stronger for us," he said.
Spicer pointed out that White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, a former congressman who was a member of the Freedom Caucus, was on Capitol Hill "talking to his former colleagues" in support of the health care proposal.
"I'm optimistic in the sense of what we're seeing and the trajectory that this is going," Spicer said.
In the Senate, where Republicans hold a narrow majority, the Trump-supported legislation so far appears to lack the votes to pass, even if it clears the House.