Republicans set new deadline to vote on Obamacare repeal
Schumer: Trump needs Democrats in on discussions
Senate Republican leaders set a new Friday deadline for getting agreement among themselves on an Obamacare repeal — though they acknowledged they’re struggling to find ideas that can bridge the gap between conservatives on one side who want to go further in repeal and moderates who say the GOP is already going too far.
Sen. John Cornyn, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, said Wednesday that they want to have a new bill by the end of this week so they can get it to congressional scorekeepers for review while Congress is gone for a July Fourth vacation next week.
Republican leaders had originally hoped to be voting this week on their bill, but shelved those plans after realizing they were far from the 50 votes needed to pass it.
Things are “all up in the air until we can find a way to build consensus,” said Mr. Cornyn, Texas Republican.
Finding that consensus is proving exceptionally difficult. Despite having seven years to work up an alternative, the GOP is still stuck on objections both big and small.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona said Republicans could coalesce around a plan by Friday if “pigs could fly.”
Conservative holdouts like Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky say the legislation leaves too much of Obamacare’s framework in place, violating the pledge Republicans made to voters to root out the 2010 law. More moderate members like Sen. Susan M. Collins of Maine, meanwhile, point to calculations that show 22 million fewer people will hold insurance in a decade, particularly because of $772 billion in lower projected Medicaid spending.
Nine GOP senators have already said they can’t support the current bill, and Republicans can only afford two defections to pass the legislation under a fasttrack process to get around a possible Democratic filibuster.
House Republicans passed their own bill earlier this year on a 217-213 vote, and anything the Senate passes would also have to go back through the lower chamber.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a conservative who has been deeply involved in the ongoing discussions, said nobody can get 100 percent of what they want if Republicans are going to get something passed.
“We are engaged in very real conversations where everybody — from the most conservative members to the most moderate members — recognize that we’re going to have to give some,” said Mr. Cruz.
The 2016 presidential candidate is pushing a provision that says if an insurance company sells at least one plan that’s Obamacare-compliant in a given state, that company can sell other noncompliant plans as well.
“That would have the effect of significantly reducing premiums and enabling people to purchase health insurance they can afford,” Mr. Cruz said.
Other lawmakers have suggested adding back in more money for Medicaid, while senators from Rust Belt states have said they want to see more funding to combat opioid addiction, saying the Medicaid cuts will devastate existing treatment programs.
Sen. Mike Rounds, South Dakota Republican, floated another idea on Wednesday to maintain Obamacare’s 3.8 percent tax on investments claimed by wealthier individuals, saying it would
raise $172 billion that could be used to improve the GOP bill.
“I think we ought to take a look at the investment tax that’s in the system now, and whether or not it would be appropriate to allow that tax to remain so that we can afford to pay for some of these additional costs that have been imposed by Obamacare,” Mr. Rounds said.
But conservatives, who want to repeal as many of the law’s taxes and regulations as possible, would likely balk at
such an idea.
“We’re continuing to work to get 50 votes,” Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, who chairs the Senate Republican Policy Committee, said when asked about the possibility of keeping the investment tax.
Democrats have refused to take part in writing a bill, saying they won’t step forward until Republicans embrace Obamacare itself.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer also called on President Trump
to host a discussion on the subject with all 100 senators after Mr. Trump held a session Tuesday with GOP members only.
“We Democrats are genuinely interested in finding a place where our two parties can come together on health care,” said Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat.
Mr. Trump said he’d have to find out if Mr. Schumer is serious.
“He’s done a lot of talking — bad talking — and he just doesn’t seem like a serious person,” the president said.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said Republicans hope to have a new bill draft for an Obamacare repeal effort by the week’s end, before Congress departs for July 4 vacation. Even without the Democrats, the GOP still lacks enough votes.