WASHINGTON — Support for a pared-down version of an Obamacare repeal bill still doesn’t have the support it needs as the Senate prepares for a long night of voting on health care. Unsatisfied with the so-called “skinny” bill GOP leaders are crafting, some Republican members are threatening to block it unless they have a guarantee that the measure will move into negotiations with the House of Representatives, where it could be fattened up.
Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., John McCain, R-Ariz., Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., and Bill Cassidy, R-La. — enough members to kill the legislation should they vote against it — held a last-minute news conference laying out their demands.
“Not only do we not replace Obamacare, we politically own the collapse of health care,” said Sen. Graham. “I would rather get out of the way and let it collapse than have a half-ass approach where it is now our problem. So we are not going to do that with our vote.”
But House Speaker Paul Ryan has not given his guarantee that they would go to conference. Other options include an informal conference that leaves Democrats out of the process or that the House just vote on whatever the Senate passes. Many Republicans in both the House and the Senate are opposed to the House simply passing the Senate’s bare-bones bill.
“There’s not enough appetite to take (the Senate bill),” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C. “Why would you have seven years and seven months to do that? That’s embarrassing.”
Republican leaders have scaled back their ambitious goal of completely repealing Obamacare because they couldn’t find agreement among their own members on how to go about it. So now they hope to pass, at some point tonight or tomorrow, the slimmed-down version of repeal.
“At this point we’re obviously looking for a vehicle that gets us to conference,” said Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., indicating his support.
Others are skeptical.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said that she’s “going to have to see how the process moves forward.”
A repeal of a tax on medical devices, which Republicans had hoped would be in the bill, is not likely to make it because it would violate budget rules, according to sources and Senators involved in negotiations.
The contents of the “skinny” repeal will largely depend on which parts can win the support of 50 Republican senators in Thursday’s voting and what fits in the confines of the budget rules which require that the bill has to save at least $133 billion. During their weekly lunch Thursday, Republicans huddled with officials of the CBO to try and piece together a bill that wouldn’t violate Senate rules.
The contours of the bill, at this point, include a repeal of the individual mandate to purchase insurance, the defunding of Planned Parenthood, give states more flexibility to opt out of insurance waivers, and a short-term repeal of the employer mandate to provide insurance.
“We just have to get back to work and see what can get 50, 51, or 52 votes,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. “We’re working on that,” adding that Republicans are going “down the laundry list of things we can agree on.”
To reach that “skinny” bill, the Senate on Thursday night will begin what’s called a “Vote-a-Rama,” where senators will vote consecutively on as many amendments as they want. Republicans are likely to offer amendments that they’d like to see in a health care bill, but the final package will only include items have the support of at least 50 Republicans.
Democrats, objecting to the GOP’s process say that they won’t offer any amendments during the “Vote-a-Rama” until Republicans show what they plan to offer in their “skinny” bill.
Democrats also requested an analysis from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office that found that an additional 16 million people would lose their insurance under the Republicans’ bare-bones bill.
The “skinny” repeal is far from Republicans’ campaign promise of also rolling back the Medicaid expansion, subsidies to help people purchase insurance, taxes, and insurance regulations.