Abortion language may be cut from Senate ObamaCare bill

Key provisions of the House’s ObamaCare repeal bill meant to curb abortion services are in serious danger of being dropped from Senate legislation, which could cost the bill votes from conservatives.

Republicans are using budget reconciliation rules to pass the ObamaCare repeal bill in order to prevent Democrats from filibustering it.

The problem is that provisions in the healthcare bill must be budget-related to be included in a measure considered under those special rules.

While no final decision will be made by the parliamentarian until there is a formal bill, she has given strong indications that the abortion language will not make the cut.

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Senators and lobbyists said they expected restrictions preventing tax credits from being used on insurance plans that cover abortion would not be allowed. House Republicans had demanded their inclusion.   

“I believe that did not pass through the parliamentarian’s review, so I don’t expect that to be in there,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Wednesday.

Under ObamaCare, there is already an abortion restriction on tax credits, however, so Senate Republicans could just keep that in place to soothe conservatives. Senate Republicans are expected to keep the underlying structure of ObamaCare tax credits, which are given based on a recipient’s income.

Another provision in trouble is language defunding Planned Parenthood, which provides abortion services and has long been targeted by Republicans.

However, a lobbyist with knowledge of negotiations said that defunding Planned Parenthood is expected to remain in the draft Senate bill, but could have to be taken out before a final vote.

Collins told reporters if Planned Parenthood language were included in the Senate bill, she and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) would introduce an amendment to strip it out.  The pair introduced a similar amendment to the GOP's 2015 repeal bill, but it was not accepted. Collins voted against the repeal bill while Murkowski voted for it. 

A roughly $100 billion stability fund meant to bring down the cost of premiums is also causing problems under the Senate rules. The stability fund money also has abortion restrictions.

To get around that problem, the lobbyist said Republicans might funnel money for the fund through the Children's Health Insurance Program, which is already subject to abortion restrictions.

Lawmakers and the public are expected to receive draft text on Thursday morning ahead of a likely vote next week.

Losing the three provisions could anger anti-abortion members of the conference, though in the case of Planned Parenthood defunding, leaving it out could help win over moderates such as Collins.

Separately, a lobbyist familiar with negotiations said a $45 billion fund for opioid treatment is unlikely to be included in the bill. That could anger Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), two centrists who say the fund is necessary to offset Medicaid cuts that could eat into medical treatment for opioid addicts.

Senators are also trying to figure out how to raise more money to make up for the costs of changes they are making to the House bill. The Senate is expected to allow for a slower phaseout of additional funding for Medicaid’s expansion than the House, which raises the bill’s costs.

Lobbyists said Republicans are talking about repealing all the ObamaCare’s taxes, but not making the repeal retroactive to 2017, as the House did.

Sources said it’s also possible that more changes could be made to the ObamaCare taxes if the Senate needs to find more money for Medicaid or other changes to the bill.

For example, Senate leaders are still coming under pressure from centrists to make the Medicaid portion of the bill more generous.

Two lobbyists said the Medicaid expansion funding phaseout could be as long as five years, more than the three Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAlabama election has GOP racing against the clock McConnell PAC demands Moore return its money Klobuchar taking over Franken's sexual assault bill MORE (R-Ky.) reportedly supports. These sources said they expected the three-year plan would be included in the draft released Thursday.

Rachel Roubein, Nathan Weixel and Jessie Hellmann contributed. 

This story was updated at 5:06 p.m.