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 McConnellGun proposal picks up GOP support Children’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform 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 RubioOvernight Defense: Tillerson, Trump deny report of rift | Tillerson says he never considered resigning | Trump expresses 'total confidence' in secretary | Rubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad Rubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad with pro-communist posts GOP establishment doubts Bannon’s primary powers MORE (Fla.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzWhatever you think the Alabama special election means, you’re probably wrong This week: Congress gets ball rolling on tax reform Week ahead: Senators work toward deal to fix ObamaCare markets 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 CornynGun proposal picks up GOP support House bill set to reignite debate on warrantless surveillance Republicans jockey for position on immigration 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 LeeWhatever you think the Alabama special election means, you’re probably wrong How the effort to replace ObamaCare failed Overnight Regulation: Trump temporarily lifts Jones Act for Puerto Rico | Bill would exempt some banks from Dodd-Frank | Senators unveil driverless car bill 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 PaulHouse bill set to reignite debate on warrantless surveillance Authorizing military force is necessary, but insufficient GOP feuds with outside group over analysis of tax framework 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 MurkowskiRepublicans jockey for position on immigration GOP senator knocks Trump: 'Not a fan of governing by tweet' How the effort to replace ObamaCare failed MORE (R-Alaska), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGun proposal picks up GOP support Giffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns Agricultural trade demands investment in MAP and FMD MORE (R-Maine) and Mark KirkMark KirkGiffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns Stale, misguided, divisive: minimum wage can't win elections Immigration critics find their champion in Trump 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.