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Republican leaders withdraw healthcare bill amid conservative concerns

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican leaders in the House of Representatives on Wednesday withdrew a bill that would change the Obama administration's healthcare law amid conservative concerns that the legislation was replacing one big government program with another.

The House cleared the way to debate the bill, which was designed to help Americans with pre-existing medical conditions while preventing the administration from using an alternate source of funding to implement its healthcare law.

But the "Helping Sick Americans Now" bill was pulled from the schedule before members could cast their votes, suggesting that Republican leaders did not have enough support from their own members. Democrats called the bill a political ploy by the Republicans.

An aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Republican leaders would bring the bill back up when Congress returns after a week-long recess in May. The legislation is not expected to go anywhere in the Democrat-controlled Senate and the White House has threatened to veto it.

"We're going to continue working on the bill. We had positive conversations today and made good progress," the Republican aide said, noting that they had run out of time with some members leaving town.

Before the House debate, several Republican conservatives were openly opposing the bill and questioning why their leaders were even offering up the measure.

They said that House leaders should give first-term Republicans a chance to vote on repealing the entire Obama healthcare law. The Republican-controlled House has voted to repeal or defund the law more than 30 times since it was enacted in 2010.

"The issue I think many of us are having with this particular piece of legislation... you're replacing one big government program with another big government program," said Representative Raul Labrador of Idaho.

In January, at an annual meeting of House Republicans, party members examined how to respond to the November 6, 2012 election results in which they lost seats to Democrats.

Some Republican consultants advised the party to appear less dogmatic over budget issues, such as the need to cut government spending and domestic programs, and become more in tune with voters' day-to-day concerns.

Labrador, speaking on Wednesday at a press conference, said he agreed with House Republican leaders' goal to brush up the party's image with voters.

But he added: "Subsidizing healthcare is not what Republicans should be about. Republicans should be about managing health care" to lower costs for Americans.

The two-term Republican added, "I agree with his (Cantor's) premise that we need to do something about the struggles of ordinary Americans. Subsidizing the struggles of ordinary Americans is not the solution to the questions that we are facing."

The bill would reallocate about $4 billion from a special Prevention and Public Health Fund that the administration has been using to help finance the creation of health insurance exchanges, new state online marketplaces where low-to-middle income families can begin signing up for federally subsidized private insurance on October 1.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, David Morgan and Rachelle Younglai; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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