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 CruzDem leaders fend off calls to impeach Trump Cruz: 'I'm glad' Disney fired James Gunn over 'horrible' tweets Washington needs to end hidden inflation tax on our capital gains 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 McConnellPelosi: 'Thug' Putin not welcome in Congress GOP to White House: End summit mystery Sunk judicial pick spills over into Supreme Court fight 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 PortmanGOP to White House: End summit mystery US to provide additional 0M in defensive aid to Ukraine Senate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit MORE (R-Ohio) and Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoSenate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Lots of love: Charity tennis match features lawmakers teaming up across the aisle Senate takes symbolic shot at Trump tariffs 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 CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report — Russia furor grips Washington Overnight Health Care: Novartis pulls back on drug price hikes | House Dems launch Medicare for All caucus | Trump officials pushing ahead on Medicaid work requirements Senate panel to vote next week on banning 'gag clauses' in pharmacy contracts MORE (R-Maine) and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerHistory argues for Democratic Senate gains Senate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Jacky Rosen hits Dean Heller over health care in first negative ad 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 HoevenGOP senators visited Moscow on July 4, warned Russia against meddling in 2018 election: report GOP lawmakers plan official visit to Russia later this week GOP senators introduce bill to prevent family separations at border 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 LeeWisconsin GOP Senate candidate rips his own parents for donations to Dems GOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE 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 CorkerCongress has five ways to show American power against Russia History argues for Democratic Senate gains GOP to White House: End summit mystery 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.