Senate Republicans say they're weeks away from healthcare vote

Senate Republicans say they're weeks away from healthcare vote
© Greg Nash

Republican senators are downplaying the chances of a quick vote next week on their ObamaCare replacement bill amid divisions in the party over what the legislation should look like. 

"We're still several weeks away from a vote, I think,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said at an event Wednesday. 

Likewise, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCruz urges UK to allow British toddler's parents to transfer him for treatment Maxine Waters to Trump: ‘Please resign’ Cruz challenger says ‘no thanks’ to funding from Steyer MORE (R-Texas) said in a radio interview on Wednesday that a vote could happen “in the next several weeks.”

Senate Republicans had originally planned to vote on the bill last week, before the July Fourth recess, but leaders delayed action when it became clear the measure would fail to clear a procedural hurdle.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP moves to cut debate time for Trump nominees McConnell hits back at 'ridiculous' Chinaperson remark GOP senator: 'We were there' on immigration before talks got derailed MORE (R-Ky.) said after announcing the delay last week the vote on the bill would occur in a “couple weeks.”

Leaders have set an ultimate deadline of the end of July, before Congress leaves for its August recess. 

McConnell is now looking to make changes to the bill to win support, but faces a tough task in threading the needle between the demands of conservatives and centrists.

Leaders are expected to include $45 billion in the legislation for fighting opioid abuse in a bid to win over moderate Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanWe must all come together to overcome the opioid epidemic Senators debate new business deduction, debt in tax law hearing Tax rules will be subject to more OMB review under new memo MORE (R-Ohio) and Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoGOP anxiety grows over Trump’s Iran decision Overnight Health Care: Trump's VA pick on the ropes | White House signals it will fight for nominee | Senate panel approves opioid bill | FDA cracking down on e-cig sales to kids Senate panel to vote next month on maternal mortality bill MORE (R-W.Va.). But those two senators they also want Medicaid cuts in the bill to be eased, which is a thornier matter. 

Other moderates are even firmer in their opposition to the bill. Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP moves to cut debate time for Trump nominees GOP senator: 'We were there' on immigration before talks got derailed GOP advances proposal to change Senate rules MORE (R-Maine) and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerRepublicans want Trump’s VA nominee to withdraw Heller leads Dem Senate challenger by 1 point: poll Senate GOP wary of new tax cut sequel MORE (R-Nev.) have indicated the legislation would need to be overhauled substantially before they could support it. They have pointed to issues like Medicaid cuts and the 22 million more people who are expected to be uninsured over a decade if the bill becomes law.

Even some senators not normally known for bucking leadership are opposed to the current version. Sen. John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenLobbying World Worried GOP views Trump trade war with angst Conservatives fear trade war could cripple tax cuts message MORE (R-N.D.) said Wednesday that he “doesn’t support the bill as it stands,” according to The Bismarck Tribune.

Meanwhile, conservatives opposed to the measure are tugging in the other direction. Sens. Cruz and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenators to Trump: Let Mueller finish Russia probe The Hill's Morning Report: Can Trump’s VA pick make it through the week? Mike Lee pens op-ed calling legislation to protect Mueller 'unconstitutional' MORE (R-Utah) say adding a change to allow insurers to sell plans that don’t meet ObamaCare regulations would win their votes. That would allow cheaper plans that don’t cover as many healthcare services to be sold.

But many other Republican senators oppose that change because they worry it would undermine protections for people with pre-existing conditions by leaving only sick people in the ObamaCare-compliant plans, spiking their premiums. 

“The challenge is we’ve got a bunch of moderate Republicans who want to keep those mandates,” Cruz said in a radio interview Wednesday, referring to the ObamaCare regulations. Those regulations include “essential health benefits,” which mandate services a plan must cover, and community rating, which prevents people with pre-existing conditions from being charged more.  

“If we include the consumer freedom amendment, I think conservatives will support this bill, it would make it a much better bill, but that remains an open question,” Cruz said. “I think we’re going to have some vigorous debates over the coming days and the coming weeks on that question.” 

Conservative Senate aides have floated a possible deal where moderates would get some of the changes they want to ease the Medicaid cuts in the bill, while conservatives would get some of what they want on loosening ObamaCare’s regulations. 

But the more moderate senators worried about pre-existing conditions might not agree to such a tradeoff. 

“There’s no attempt whatsoever to do away with pre-existing condition [protections]” Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPoll: Dem leads by 3 points in Tennessee Senate race GOP anxiety grows over Trump’s Iran decision Trump backs Renacci in Ohio Senate race MORE (R-Tenn.) told a pair of constituents opposed to the bill in a video posted by a Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter on Thursday.

Corker is pushing not to repeal an ObamaCare tax on the wealthy in order to fund increased subsidies for low-income people in the bill. But conservatives have been pushing back on the idea of not repealing all of the ObamaCare taxes.   

Leaders sent two versions of a revised bill to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) for analysis over the recess, one with the Cruz amendment and one without.

A conservative aide said leadership has not been specific about what would be needed in the CBO analysis for the change to be included, though.   

Just three Republican senators voting “no” would sink the bill, as Republicans have a narrow 52-48 majority.

“We’ve got to get 50 out of those 52 and that is not easy because you’ve got views all over the spectrum, all over the map,” Cruz said.