Senate Republicans prepare to pass Obamacare repeal few of them back – Politico
Senate Republicans are closing in on passage of their so-called “skinny” Obamacare repeal — thanks to a pledge from Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that it won’t become law.
The bizarre turn of events — GOP senators were gearing up to vote for a bill few if any of them actually support — came on a frenetic day of the Republican Party’s tortured bid to upend the Democratic health care law.
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On Thursday afternoon, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) threatened to tank the bare-bones repeal plan, which would scuttle Obamacare’s coverage mandates. Saying the bill would wreak further havoc on the health care system, the trio demanded that the bill, if they voted for it, would be just the starting point for negotiations with the House. They worried that if the Senate approved the bill, the House would quickly follow suit and send it to President Donald Trump for his signature.
After Ryan offered a somewhat ambiguous commitment to go to conference committee, several GOP senators said they still weren’t satisfied. The House leader then personally reassured a handful of senators that the House will enter negotiations with the Senate if it passes its bill. That was enough for at least Graham to move forward.
The House “will go to conference, and under no circumstances does he believe the skinny bill is good policy or good politics,” Graham said of the discussion with Ryan. “He doesn’t want us to be the party that repeals part of Obamacare and leaves most of it in place … The bottom line here is I think Paul sees the skinny bill as a vehicle to find a better solution.”
McCain, however, said he still wasn’t convinced.
“I wanted to talk to him some more,” McCain said, referring to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey. “It’s always important to talk to your governor.”
Asked how he will vote, he said: “I am not discussing that.”
The bill would repeal Obamacare’s individual coverage mandate permanently and its employer mandate for eight years. It would also give states flexibility to opt out of some Obamacare regulations, defund Planned Parenthood for a year, repeal the medical device tax for three years and allow more pre-tax money to pay for health savings accounts. It’s a far less dramatic rollback of the law than most Senate Republicans have previously supported.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated late Thursday that the finalized GOP bill would leave 16 million fewer people uninsured than under the current law by 2026, while reducing the deficit by nearly $179 billion over that same time frame.
Senate GOP leaders view the measure as a bridge to continued negotiations, not a policy solution. They don’t want to be blamed for being the chamber that killed Obamacare repeal, and aim to pass the slimmed down repeal plan in the wee hours of the morning Friday, after an all-night series of amendment votes known as a “vote-a-rama.”
Asked if there is any chance this bill becomes law, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) replied: “No, I don’t.”
“Everybody wants to be able to vote for something out of the Senate that can move the process forward,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a GOP leader. “I think in the end we’ll have 50” votes.
Still, the outcome remained murky late into the night. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said she’d decided how she would vote but would not announce her position until bill comes up. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said the same. A spokesman for Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said he was still undecided after the text was unveiled. But most other Republicans had signed on by Thursday evening, boosting confidence after doubts crept in hours earlier.
Graham, Johnson and McCain had demanded an ironclad commitment from Ryan that the House would not take up and pass the Senate’s bill. In a statement a few hours later, Ryan sought to reassure the Senate while declining to guarantee that the Senate’s bill, which would cause a spike in premiums and millions more to be uninsured, would not become law.
It was a tepid endorsement of the Senate leadership’s drive to pass something — anything — in order to keep moving forward, but hardly more than that.
“It is now obvious that the only path ahead is for the Senate to pass the narrow legislation that it is currently considering. This package includes important reforms like eliminating the job-killing employer mandate and the requirement that forces people to purchase coverage they don’t want,” Ryan said. “Still it is not enough to solve the many failures of Obamacare. Senators have made clear that this is an effort to keep the process alive, not to make law. If moving forward requires a conference committee, that is something the House is willing to do.”
The House could take up what the Senate passes by week’s end, or agree to go to a conference committee. The outcome of the vote on the repeal plan remained in doubt late into the evening, as did the exact contents of the bill until it was released after 10 p.m. Most senators agreed it was not good health care policy.
“The skinny bill as policy is a disaster,” Graham said, explaining it would cause a crisis in the insurance markets. “I need assurances from the House speaker … if I don’t [get them], I’m a no.”
On Thursday evening, before the “vote-a-rama” kicked off, GOP leaders were cautiously optimistic they would succeed despite the differing views on Ryan’s commitment.
At a party lunch Thursday, McConnell made one last frantic plea to his Senate Republican members to keep the party’s Obamacare repeal bid alive. Republicans must get 50 of their 52 members on board; Vice President Mike Pence would break a 50-50 tie to pass the bill.
The Senate majority leader picked up some key votes, including Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio. Not everyone was sold, but GOP leaders were emphasizing that the bill, which would slash Obamacare’s coverage mandates and result in millions more uninsured, is not the ultimate goal. The bill also does not cut Medicaid.
The bill’s cornerstone is a repeal of the individual and employer mandates. It would not touch Medicaid. It also would defund Planned Parenthood and give states more flexibility to opt out of Obamacare regulations; the law’s Prevention and Public Fund is also expected to be sharply cut. But there are growing concerns among Republicans that budget requirements will prevent the Senate from repealing any of Obamacare’s taxes.
“I don’t know whether at the end of this process it’s going to be fat, skinny, bulimic, anorexic, I don’t know. This is not being orchestrated, I can assure you,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.).
And it’s unclear whether there will be a complete Congressional Budget Office score of the Republican plan in time for the vote. Republicans say if there isn’t, they would rely on prior CBO scores of provisions of the bill and Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi would make a ruling.
Even as the chamber careens toward a final decision on whether to repeal, replace or revise Obamacare, with no certain outcome, Republican leaders are desperate to get rid of their political headache after several failed votes earlier this week.
“We have to pass something,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the most senior GOP senator and chairman of the Finance Committee.