Re­peated fail­ures

GOP seeks sup­port for nar­row ver­sion of ‘Oba­macare’ re­peal

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - WORLD -

Bat­tered by re­peated fail­ures to re­peal or re­place “Oba­macare,” Se­nate GOP lead­ers re­treated to a nar­row ap­proach Thurs­day that would undo just a few of the most un­pop­u­lar el­e­ments of Barack Obama’s law. Democrats vowed op­po­si­tion as the Se­nate pre­pared for a bizarre Capi­tol Hill rit­ual, a “vote-a-rama” on amend­ments that promised to last into the wee hours of Fri­day morn­ing.

The so-called “skinny re­peal” was be­ing touted as a way for Repub­li­cans to get some­thing, any­thing, out of the Se­nate af­ter frit­ter­ing away the first six months of Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­dency try­ing un­suc­cess­fully to get rid of the cur­rent law. Talks with the House would fol­low, with the hope of craft­ing a com­pro­mise re­peal-and-re­place bill that could pass both cham­bers some­time in the fall.

Whether Repub­li­cans can make it that far looks iffy at best. But Trump tweeted his en­cour­age­ment Thurs­day morn­ing, al­beit with an omi­nous touch: “Come on Repub­li­can Sen­a­tors, you can do it on Health­care. Af­ter 7 years, this is your chance to shine! Don’t let the Amer­i­can peo­ple down!”

The “skinny bill” strat­egy emerged af­ter Repub­li­cans barely suc­ceeded ear­lier this week in open­ing de­bate on health leg­is­la­tion in the nar­rowly di­vided Se­nate, win­ning the pro­ce­dural vote to do so thanks only to VicePresident Mike Pence break­ing a 50-50 tie.

Hours of de­bate fol­lowed, as well as few amend­ment votes that starkly re­vealed Repub­li­can di­vides. On Tues­day, on a 57-43 vote with nine GOP de­fec­tions, the Se­nate re­jected a wide-rang­ing pro­posal by Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mc­Connell to erase and re­place much of the Af­ford­able Care Act. Then on Wed­nes­day, a straight­for­ward re­peal mea­sure failed 55-45 with seven Repub­li­cans join­ing Democrats in vot­ing “no,” even though nearly iden­ti­cal leg­is­la­tion had passed Congress two years ear­lier.

That left Repub­li­can sen­a­tors hunt­ing for other op­tions, and the “skinny re­peal” rose to the top. The mea­sure has not been fi­nal­ized, but sen­a­tors say it could elim­i­nate Oba­macare’s two man­dates — for in­di­vid­u­als to carry in­sur­ance and for em­ploy­ers to of­fer it — along with an un­pop­u­lar tax on med­i­cal de­vices, and con­tain a few other pro­vi­sions.

“It is be­ing called a skinny bill be­cause it won’t have much in it,” said Sen. La­mar Alexan­der, R-Tenn. “It is not a so­lu­tion to the Af­ford­able Care Act prob­lems. But it is a so­lu­tion on how we can get to a place where we can write a so­lu­tion to the Af­ford­able Care Act.”

Whether Repub­li­cans have the votes even to pass that much is un­clear. But the out­come will emerge over the next 12 to 24 hours, as sen­a­tors buckle in for the “vote-arama” dur­ing which un­lim­ited amend­ment votes can be of­fered on the health leg­is­la­tion from both sides.

Most of them will be dis­missed along par­ti­san lines; some may resur­face in years to come in the form of at­tack ads. But at some point along the way Mc­Connell is ex­pected to of­fer the “skinny bill” as an amend­ment of his own, with hopes it will get a ma­jor­ity.

“I think it is quite likely we will be here much of the night, if not all night,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “And at the end of it hope­fully we’ll have a bill that can bring us to­gether.”

Yet as has hap­pened ev­ery step of the way in the health care de­bate, no sooner did the “skinny bill” emerge than op­po­si­tion ar­rayed against it.

AP PHOTO

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. meets with re­porters on Capi­tol Hill in Wash­ing­ton, on Thurs­day as the Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity in Congress re­mains stymied by their in­abil­ity to ful­fill their po­lit­i­cal prom­ise to re­peal and re­place “Oba­macare.”

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