Week ahead: Senate work on ObamaCare repeal intensifies

Week ahead: Senate work on ObamaCare repeal intensifies
© Greg Nash

The GOP Senate's work on legislation to repeal and replace ObamaCare is expected to heat up in the coming week.

Senators only have two weeks left in the work period before the Fourth of July recess, which leaders have eyed as a target for holding a vote on a bill. But there are still significant policy hurdles that remain.

GOP leaders insist the divide between moderate Republicans and conservatives is surmountable. They've been talking about repealing ObamaCare for seven years, and publicly say they can see the finish line.

There will be more meetings in the coming week, but the discussions have been behind closed doors so far, leading to grumbling from Democrats, as well as some Republicans like Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPentagon: War in Afghanistan will cost billion in 2018 Overnight Finance: Senators near two-year budget deal | Trump would 'love to see a shutdown' over immigration | Dow closes nearly 600 points higher after volatile day | Trade deficit at highest level since 2008 | Pawlenty leaving Wall Street group Rand Paul calls for punishment if Congress can't reach a long-term budget deal MORE (R-Ky.), and outside groups about transparency.

Some senators say time is not on their side as they try to win votes, and they believe Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDems confront Kelly after he calls some immigrants 'lazy' McConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Overnight Defense: Latest on spending fight - House passes stopgap with defense money while Senate nears two-year budget deal | Pentagon planning military parade for Trump | Afghan war will cost B in 2018 MORE (R-Ky.) could simply decide it's time to move and force a vote.

"It won't be appreciably better a month from today than it is today. At some point to get this done, you're going to get it done in the last 10 days before the vote," Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntHouse passes bill to ease menu labeling rules under ObamaCare Heroin Task Force presses Congress for more funding to fight opioid epidemic Senate Republicans call on Trump to preserve NAFTA MORE (R-Mo.) said

But the disagreements aren't minor. Senators are still debating how quickly to phase out federal funds for Medicaid expansion and how deeply to cut the program, and lawmakers say they have still not seen legislative text of a bill.

Instead, they've been sending bits and pieces of the bill to the Congressional Budget Office individually.

"I think we're making progress but they're very difficult issues. Leadership hasn't written a bill yet," Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold Johnson40 patient advocacy groups oppose 'right to try' drug bill GOP eyes changes to 'right to try' bill Hundreds sign on to letter opposing 'right to try' drug bill MORE (R-Wis.) said.

And pressure is mounting. Liberal groups are targeting swing Republican votes.

One of the lawmakers on their list, Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiLawmakers scold Trump official over Pacific island trust fund Republican agenda clouded by division Greens sue over Interior plans to build road through Alaska refuge MORE (R-Alaska) has already expressed concerns. Asked Thursday if she could spport the emerging GOP bill, Murkowski said: "I just truly do not know."

It's a daunting path ahead, with Republicans still needing to finish writing the bill, get a CBO score, and secure 50 votes.

Outside of the repeal bill, lawmakers have a number of hearings on health issues in the coming week.

On Wednesday, a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska native Affairs will look at legislation to improve the Indian Health Service.

There will also be more budget hearings.

Tuesday, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb will testify before a Senate Appropriations subpanel on his agency's fiscal 2018 budget request.

On Wednesday, a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee will hear from Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin on his department's fiscal 2018 budget request

On Thursday, a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee will hold a hearing on the fiscal 2018 budget request for the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Francis S. Collins, the NIH director will testify.

President Trump's proposed budget would cut $5.8 billion for the agency, a plan that has already encountered sharp opposition in Congress.


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