Se­na­tor: GOP leader to pick bill for vote

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - HOPE YEN

WASH­ING­TON — The Se­nate will move for­ward with a key vote this week on a Repub­li­can health care bill but it’s not yet known whether the leg­is­la­tion will seek to re­place the Pa­tient Pro­tec­tion and Af­ford­able Care Act or sim­ply re­peal it, the third-high­est rank­ing Repub­li­can se­na­tor said Sun­day.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky., will make a de­ci­sion soon on which bill to bring up for a vote, depend­ing on on­go­ing dis­cus­sions with GOP se­na­tors. Thune sought to cast this week’s ini­tial vote as im­por­tant but mostly pro­ce­dural, al­low­ing se­na­tors to be­gin de­bate and pro­pose amend­ments. But he ac­knowl­edged that se­na­tors should be able to know be­fore­hand what bill they will be con­sid­er­ing.

“That’s a judg­ment that Sen. McCon­nell will make at some point this week be­fore the vote,” Thune said on Fox News Sun­day, ex­press­ing his own hope it will be a re­peal-and-re­place mea­sure. “But no mat­ter which camp you’re in, you can’t have a de­bate about ei­ther un­less we get on the bill. So we need a ‘yes’ vote.”

He said the pro­ce­dural vote will be held “some­time this week.”

The Repub­li­can-con­trolled House in May passed its ver­sion of a bill to re­peal and re­place the Af­ford­able Care Act, or “Oba­macare.”

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has said he wants Congress to re­peal and re­place the Af­ford­able Care Act, but would ac­cept a straight re­peal of the law if se­na­tors couldn’t reach agree­ment. In a sign of the high stakes in­volved, Trump ex­horted se­na­tors anew Sun­day night to pass health leg­is­la­tion. “If Repub­li­cans don’t Re­peal and Re­place the dis­as­trous Oba­maCare, the reper­cus­sions will be far greater than any of them un­der­stand!” Trump tweeted.

Se­nate Repub­li­cans are now con­sid­er­ing two ver­sions of sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion, one that would re­peal and re­place, and an­other that would sim­ply re­peal the Af­ford­able Care Act with a two-year de­lay to give the Se­nate more time to agree on a re­place­ment.

Both ver­sions en­coun­tered op­po­si­tion from enough GOP se­na­tors to doom the ef­fort, but McCon­nell is mak­ing a last-gasp at­tempt this week af­ter Trump in­sisted that se­na­tors not leave town for the Au­gust re­cess with­out send­ing him some kind of health over­haul bill to sign.

In the Se­nate, Repub­li­cans hold a 52-48 ma­jor­ity. They can only af­ford to have one of their se­na­tors de­fect and still pre­vail on a health bill. That’s be­cause Repub­li­can Sen. John McCain is in Ari­zona deal­ing with brain can­cer, while Democrats are stand­ing united in op­po­si­tion. Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence would cast a tie-break­ing vote.

Thune said no mat­ter the out­come of the up­com­ing vote, se­na­tors would con­tinue work­ing to pass health leg­is­la­tion no mat­ter how long it took, hav­ing promised vot­ers they would do so.

“We are go­ing to vote to re­peal and re­place Oba­macare,” he said, ar­gu­ing that it was bet­ter if done sooner rather than later. “It’s not a ques­tion of if, it’s a ques­tion of when.”

Still, at least two Repub­li­can se­na­tors Sun­day ap­peared to reaf­firm their in­ten­tion to vote against the pro­ce­dural mo­tion if it in­volved the lat­est ver­sion of the GOP’s re­peal-and-re­place bill.

Moder­ate Su­san Collins of Maine said she con­tin­ued to have con­cerns about re­duc­tions to Med­i­caid and crit­i­cized the Repub­li­can process, say­ing lawmakers were be­ing un­fairly kept in the dark. Un­der McCon­nell’s plan, 22 mil­lion more peo­ple would be­come unin­sured by 2026, many of them Med­i­caid re­cip­i­ents. She wants to hold pub­lic hear­ings and work with Democrats.

Con­ser­va­tive Rand Paul of Ken­tucky said he would only sup­port a re­peal-only bill. That ver­sion would re­duce gov­ern­ment costs but lead to 32 mil­lion ad­di­tional unin­sured peo­ple over a decade. At least three se­na­tors in­clud­ing Collins have pre­vi­ously ex­pressed op­po­si­tion to that plan.

“The real ques­tion is what are we mov­ing to? What are we open­ing de­bate to? Last week, Se­nate lead­er­ship said it would be a clean re­peal … and I think that’s a good idea,” Paul said on CNN’s State of the Union. “The other al­ter­na­tive is the Se­nate lead­er­ship bill that doesn’t re­peal Oba­macare, is Oba­macare light and is loaded with pork. … I’m not for that.”

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