Health deal still eludes Senate GOP
WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans returned to Washington from a holiday recess with new and deepening disagreements about their health care bill, with key Republicans differing Sunday not only on how to amend the bill but also whether it could pass at all.
“They will get a repeal and replace bill done,” White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said on Fox News Sunday.
“I would probably put [passage] as 50/50,” Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said on the same show.
“My view is it’s probably going to be dead,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on CBS’ Face the Nation.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to push debate on the Better Care Reconciliation Act past the July 4 recess was supposed to create space for deal-making.
“Legislation of this complexity almost always takes longer than anybody else would hope,” McConnell, R-Ky., said at a June 27 news conference announcing the delay.
Instead, Republicans have run in different directions, proposing everything from a bipartisan deal to pay for insurance subsidies to a “repeal and delay” plan that would give them a few years before the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement, would be fully repealed.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, the author of a “Consumer Freedom Option” amendment designed to bring conservatives on board with the bill, spent part of Sunday insisting its critics were wrong. His amendment, also supported by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, would allow insurers to offer cheaper plans that did not include the essential health benefits offered under the law Cruz calls Obamacare.
“You have millions of people who are winners straight off: young people,” said Cruz on Face the Nation. “Young people get hammered by Obamacare. Millions of young people suddenly have much lower premiums.”
Over the recess, however, key Republicans said the amendment weakened protections that the party had promised to keep in place.
“I think that reopens an issue that I can’t support, that it would make it too difficult for people with pre-existing conditions to get coverage,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., told the Charleston
Gazette-Mail on Friday. “There’s a real feeling that that’s subterfuge to get around pre-existing conditions,” Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, told Iowa Public Radio on Wednesday. “If it is, in fact, subterfuge, and it has the effect of annihilating the pre-existing conditions requirement that we have in the existing bill, then obviously I would object to that.”
On ABC’s This Week, Cruz said colleagues like Grassley were simply being misled. “What’s being repeated there is what [Senate Minority Leader Charles] Schumer said this week, which is that he called it a hoax,” he said. “Chuck Schumer and Barack Obama know a lot about health care hoaxes.”
Schumer’s Democrats, meanwhile, have continued campaigning against the Senate Republicans’ bill, saying they will come to the table on health care only if Republicans give up on repeal. Throughout the recess, progressive activists, urged on by Democrats, protested and occupied the offices of Republican senators. On Friday, 16 protesters were arrested at the Columbus office of Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, joining dozens arrested in civil disobedience around the country.
“We aren’t going to allow a handful of Socialists, many of whom are from New York, to disrupt our ability to serve the needs of the Ohio constituents who contact us in need of vital services every day,” Portman’s office said in a statement.
While no prominent Senate Democrats appeared on Sunday’s talk shows, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., spent the day rallying voters in West Virginia and Kentucky against the bill.
“Mitch McConnell is now trying to make side deals in order to win votes,” Sanders said in West Virginia. “I say to Senator Capito: Please do not fall for that old trick. This legislation is fatally flawed, and no small tweak here or there will undo the massive damage that it will cause to West Virginia and the entire country.”
Conservatives spent the weekend discussing a repeal-and-delay plan. At a Republican fundraising dinner in Iowa, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., suggested that repealing most of the Affordable Care Act would force Democrats to the table to work on a replacement.
“If we can’t replace and repeal at the same time, then repeal the law and stay and work on replace full time,” Sasse said.
On Fox, Cassidy — one of the Senate’s few medical doctors — said the repeal-and-delay plan was a fantasy.
“It gives all the power to people who actually don’t believe in President [Donald] Trump’s campaign pledges, who actually don’t want to continue to cover and care for pre-existing conditions and to lower premiums,” Cassidy said. “It gives them the stronger hand. I think it’s wrong.”