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Senate moves to right for ObamaCare repeal votes

Senate moves to right for ObamaCare repeal votes
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Senate Republican leaders plan to go further with their ObamaCare repeal bill after finding that the House-passed version cannot win a simple majority on the floor.

“The House guys are going to be surprised when they learn they were outflanked by the Senate, which will pass a more conservative ObamaCare repeal,” said a Senate GOP aide.

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“We hear they want to significantly expand on the House bill.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRepublicans divided over legislation protecting Mueller The Hill's Morning Report: Inside the Comey memos Democrats mull audacious play to block Pompeo MORE (R-Ky.) plans to move the repeal bill through a special process known as reconciliation, which cuts off any opportunity for a filibuster. The catch is that the process can only be used if the bill reduces the federal deficit.

Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioStudents gather outside White House after walkout to protest gun violence Overnight Energy: Senate confirms Bridenstine as NASA chief | Watchdog probes Pruitt’s use of security detail | Emails shine light on EPA science policy changes Senate confirms Trump’s pick to lead NASA MORE (Fla.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCruz's Dem challenger slams Time piece praising Trump Race for Republican Speaker rare chance to unify party for election 32 male senators back Senate women's calls to change harassment rules MORE (Texas), who are vying for the GOP presidential nomination, have forced McConnell’s hand by announcing they will not support the House bill. They say it does not go far enough to repeal President Obama’s healthcare law.

Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynRepublicans divided over legislation protecting Mueller Democrats mull audacious play to block Pompeo Overnight Energy: Senate confirms Bridenstine as NASA chief | Watchdog probes Pruitt’s use of security detail | Emails shine light on EPA science policy changes MORE (Texas) said Monday the House bill could be strengthened on the Senate floor.

“Everybody will be able to offer amendments so we’ll have a vote-a-rama,” he said. “We’ll go as far as we can consistent with the Senate rules.”

The House-passed legislation leaves in place several of the law’s tax increases, which generate hundreds of billions of dollars for the government. It also preserves health insurance subsidies and an expansion of Medicaid.

The lower chamber’s bill repeals the “Cadillac tax” on expensive employer-provided plans, the medical device tax and the law’s requirements to buy and provide insurance plans.

“They’re exploring ways to go further than the House bill,” said another Senate GOP aide. “But they need to figure out how far they can go without losing people.”

The aide said while conservatives are pushing for a repeal of the Medicaid expansion, “that’s complicated for some Republicans.”

Aides say a vote on the repeal package may slide into December because leaders don’t yet have enough support.

“They’re whipping the votes and they haven’t scheduled it yet,” said the aide. “If we can’t get enough votes for a Senate amendment, we’ll vote on the House bill.”

Rubio’s position in the repeal fight could sway other Senate Republicans, who are coming around to the view that he is the party’s likely standard-bearer next fall.

Cruz, who has outperformed expectations by surpassing former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the polls of the presidential race, will try to make the vote a litmus test for his party’s leaders.  

Conservative Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate confirms Trump’s pick to lead NASA Key senators warn Trump of North Korea effort on Syria Rep. Jordan: Action in Syria ‘should be debated in Congress’ MORE (R-Utah) signed on to the statement with Rubio and Cruz announcing their opposition to the House bill.

With Rubio, Cruz and Lee demanding a stronger bill, McConnell has little room for error. With a 54-memebr majority, Republicans can only afford three defections and still have a repeal bill pass on the floor.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOvernight Defense: Congress poised for busy week on nominations, defense bill | Trump to deliver Naval Academy commencement speech | Trump administration appeals decision to block suspected combatant's transfer Democrats mull audacious play to block Pompeo Overnight Defense: Trump steps up fight with California over guard deployment | Heitkamp is first Dem to back Pompeo for State | Dems question legality of Syria strikes MORE (R-Ky.), who is also running for president, has said he won’t rest until ObamaCare is “100 percent repealed.”

“I’m for repealing the whole thing,” he told Politico last month.

A full repeal could cause heartburn for Republicans facing tough reelection races in swing states, where certain parts of the law, such as letting young adults stay on a parent’s health plans until age 26, are popular.

“Voting to take away health insurance for individuals with pre-existing conditions, to deny women preventive care, and to jack up the prices on prescription drugs for seniors would be an albatross around the neck of Republicans running in 2016,” said a Senate Democratic leadership aide.

The final reconciliation package is unlikely to include language defunding Planned Parenthood, which Senate sources say runs afoul of the Byrd Rule. That test, which was established by the 1974 Budget Act, determines what provisions can pass with simple majorities under reconciliation.

Senate aides predict the Planned Parenthood provision would fail a primary test of Byrd Rule, which stipulates that all elements of a reconciliation package must be directed at affecting government outlays and revenues.

The main purpose of defunding Planned Parenthood is to strip the family planning group of government resources, not to affect the budget baseline, according to sources familiar with Senate procedure. 

Excluding Planned Parenthood from the bill could help McConnell win over moderate Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenators press administration on mental health parity Overnight Energy: Watchdogs unveil findings on EPA, Interior controversies | GAO says EPA violated law with soundproof booth | IG says Zinke could have avoided charter flight | GOP chair probes Pruitt's four email addresses GOP fractures over push to protect Russia probe MORE (R-Alaska), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Energy: Trump NASA pick advances after drama | White House office to investigate Pruitt's soundproof booth | 170 lawmakers call for Pruitt to resign Trump's NASA nominee advances after floor drama Family, friends mourn death of Barbara Bush MORE (R-Maine) and Mark KirkMark Steven KirkHigh stakes as Trump heads to Hill Five things to watch for at Trump-Senate GOP meeting Giffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns MORE (R-Ill.), who have raised opposition to defunding the group.

Senate GOP leadership aides, however, caution that the bill is still under discussion and won’t be settled until the parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, has a chance to rule on it.

Cornyn said “there’s been ongoing discussions” about the Planned Parenthood language, adding “I’m not aware of any conclusion that’s been reached on that.”

“We don’t know what the parliamentarian will allow, so we won’t jump to any conclusions on what our bill will be,” said a Senate GOP aide. 

The parliamentarian has already signaled she will take a strict approach to determining what parts of ObamaCare can be targeted.

She signaled to House GOP leaders earlier this fall that a provision to scrap the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which was established to cut Medicare costs above a certain threshold, would not pass muster.

House leaders then cut it from their version of the package.

Some Senate conservatives are pushing for a bill that would repeal all of ObamaCare in a single sentence.

But MacDonough signaled earlier this year that such a maneuver would not fly.

Proponents of this blanket strategy argue, however, that she has only provided preliminary indication and has not yet heard full arguments from both proponents and opponents of the tactic.

Some Senate aides also question whether repeal of the individual and employer mandates, central components of the House bill, can pass the Byrd Rule.

The mandates are designed to pressure people into obtaining and providing health insurance coverage, and they do not have a direct and significant impact on the budget.