Se­nate Repub­li­cans ‘close’ to re­peal bill for Oba­macare.

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

Se­nate GOP lead­ers said Tues­day they’re “close” to set­tling on their own plan to re­peal and re­place Oba­macare, as pres­sure mounts on them to de­liver on their health prom­ises be­fore the Au­gust re­cess.

It’s been more than a month since House Repub­li­cans mus­cled their own re­peal bill to pas­sage. Se­nate Repub­li­cans have re­jected that bill, but have strug­gled to come up with their own al­ter­na­tive that can win a ma­jor­ity vote in the up­per cham­ber.

Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell said his ne­go­tia­tors are putting pen to pa­per to see where his troops stand as the ef­fort moves into a do-or-die phase.

“We’re get­ting close to hav­ing a pro­posal to whip and to take to the floor,” Mr. McCon­nell said. “We’ve had seven years to talk about health care.”

The GOP cleared a ma­jor pro­ce­dural hur­dle Tues­day, as the Se­nate’s main referee — the par­lia­men­tar­ian — said the House tem­plate com­ports with fast­track bud­get rules Repub­li­cans are us­ing to avoid a Demo­cratic fil­i­buster of their plans.

Yet po­lit­i­cal ob­sta­cles re­main. Rankand-file Repub­li­cans claimed progress af­ter yet an­other closed-door meet­ing Tues­day, yet hedged on whether they’ll muster the votes for pas­sage.

“We’re all cau­tiously op­ti­mistic — that’s the best I can do for you,” Sen. James E. Risch, Idaho Re­pub­li­can, told re­porters. “We want to get this done. It’s a heavy lift.”

The GOP faces the twin pres­sures of quench­ing Pres­i­dent Trump’s thirst for a re­peal bill so he can fo­cus on cut­ting taxes and patch­ing up a wob­bly Oba­macare mar­ket with mount­ing prob­lems.

An­other ma­jor in­surer, An­them, said Tues­day it is pulling out of Ohio’s ex­change, leav­ing 20 of Ohio’s 88 coun­ties without an op­tion next year.

That with­drawal fol­lows sim­i­lar ex­its across the Mid­west in re­cent weeks, as in­sur­ers blame both the 2010 Af­ford­able Care Act and Mr. Trump’s han­dling of the law.

An­them sells in­di­vid­ual poli­cies in 13 other states, so its with­drawal could be an omi­nous bell­wether for the mar­kets head­ing into 2018.

“If Congress doesn’t act to save Amer­i­cans from this Demo­crat-in­flicted catas­tro­phe, next year is only go­ing to be worse,” Pres­i­dent Trump said be­fore a meet­ing with Mr. McCon­nell and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan.

Yet Sen. John Thune said Repub­li­cans might have to con­sider short-term fixes to Oba­macare if they can’t set­tle on a long-term re­place­ment soon, since the mar­kets are “wait­ing to see what’s go­ing to hap­pen.”

Sen­a­tors who darted be­tween meet­ings said they are con­sid­er­ing ways to en­tice more peo­ple to hold in­surance by mak­ing their tax cred­its more gen­er­ous than the House’s plan, per­haps ad­just­ing the ben­e­fits by ge­og­ra­phy.

They’re also try­ing to rein in the 2010 law’s vast ex­pan­sion of Med­i­caid without in­flict­ing too much pain.

There are 20 Re­pub­li­can sen­a­tors who rep­re­sent states that ac­cepted an in­flux of fed­eral cash to ex­pand Med­i­caid to their poor­est res­i­dents, so they’re seek­ing a soft land­ing.

Some Democrats tried to poke holes in the House bill. For in­stance, they said its re­peal of “cost-shar­ing” sub­si­dies for Amer­i­can In­dian pop­u­la­tions fell out­side the com­mit­tees han­dling the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process.

Aides said other as­pects of the bill will still have to be scrubbed in a process known as the “Byrd bath” to en­sure they re­late to the bud­get and sat­isfy the fast-track rules. Yet those as­pects can be fixed without harm­ing the in­tegrity of the whole bill.

If the par­lia­men­tar­ian had dis­cov­ered a fa­tal er­ror on Tues­day, it would have forced the House to hold a dif­fi­cult revote.

Democrats said the en­tire GOP ef­fort is doomed to fail on its mer­its.

“They are not go­ing to be able to res­cue a deeply flawed bill by dol­ing out some tax cred­its here and tax cred­its there,” Sen. Ron Wy­den, Ore­gon Demo­crat, said.

Se­nate Repub­li­cans are ne­go­ti­at­ing their plan in se­cret, with law­mak­ers in a 13-mem­ber work­ing group shuf­fling from one closed-door meet­ing to an­other without hold­ing pub­lic hear­ings.

Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Re­pub­li­can, de­fended the process, say­ing it fos­tered comity among Repub­li­cans.

“One of the most en­cour­ag­ing as­pects of th­ese dis­cus­sions is they have not been lit­i­gated in the press,” he said. “Rather, mem­bers are com­ing to­gether, I be­lieve in good faith, [and] work­ing to come to com­mon ground.”

Yet some di­vi­sions emerged on Tues­day, as con­ser­va­tives con­tinue to be wary of re­fund­able tax cred­its for peo­ple who buy in­surance on their own, ar­gu­ing they re­place one en­ti­tle­ment with an­other, even as cen­trists try to make the as­sis­tance more gen­er­ous.

Mr. Gra­ham re­port­edly told me­dia out­lets at the Capi­tol that Sen. Rand Paul of Ken­tucky was “ir­re­triev­ably gone” be­cause he can’t sup­port the tax cred­its, so the 52-seat ma­jor­ity is start­ing at 51 votes.

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