GOP faces risks, rewards in rushing to repeal vote without CBO score

GOP faces risks, rewards in rushing to repeal vote without CBO score
© Greg Nash

Senate Republicans are rushing toward a vote on an ObamaCare repeal bill without getting a full analysis from the Congressional Budget Office on how their legislation would affect coverage and premiums.

It’s a risky move, as Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate Gang of Four to meet next week on immigration Republicans agree — it’s only a matter of time for Scott Pruitt Skyrocketing insulin prices provoke new outrage MORE (R-Maine) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMulvaney aims to cement CFPB legacy by ensuring successor's confirmation Trump mocks McCain at Nevada rally Don’t disrespect McCain by torpedoing his clean National Defense Authorization Act MORE (R-Ariz.) have both said they’d prefer to have a full score before casting their votes.

Yet it could also pay dividends for Republicans, who would prefer to hold a vote on their measure without headlines about a CBO score that could project that millions would lose insurance or see their premiums rise under the legislation.

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Republicans can lose only two Republican votes and still pass the bill under special budgetary rules that prevent Democrats from filibustering the legislation.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP senators call for probe of federal grants on climate change Overnight Health Care — Presented by the Association of American Medical Colleges — Key ObamaCare groups in limbo | Opioids sending thousands of kids into foster care | House passes bill allowing Medicaid to pay for opioid treatments US watchdog: 'We failed' to stem Afghan opium production MORE (R-Ky.) has publicly announced his opposition, meaning the GOP can’t afford to lose both Collins and McCain. Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiHeitkamp ad highlights record as Senate race heats up Icebreaking ships are not America’s top priority in the Arctic 13 GOP senators ask administration to pause separation of immigrant families MORE (R-Alaska) is another big swing vote.

The GOP is in a rush because it faces a Sept. 30 deadline to pass ObamaCare repeal legislation under the budget reconciliation rules.

The CBO said Monday that it would not have time before a vote next week to provide an analysis of how many people would lose coverage under the bill, or whether premiums would rise. Instead, it will only have time to provide a bare-bones analysis of the bill’s effect on spending.

Collins criticized the decision to move ahead without a full CBO score as “problematic.”

“That's part of the problem with short-circuiting the process,” she added.

McCain said that he too would like to have a full estimate from the CBO, though he also emphasized his broader call for regular order, meaning committee hearings and amendments from both parties.

“I'd like to have an estimate, but again you've heard me time and time again: We need to go through regular order,” McCain said.

Democrats are blasting Republicans for going forward with a possible vote next week without a full analysis.

“This is the poorest way of legislating that I’ve seen in all my years here,” Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) said Monday. “To try and rush this bill through: no hearings, no CBO score, no knowledge of how it actually affects your constituents. How can we do that?”

The Senate Finance Committee did schedule a hearing for Monday, though Democrats argue that is only for show.

Some Republicans are defending the decision to move forward without a full CBO score. They say CBO’s previous analyses of GOP ObamaCare repeal bills were inaccurate because CBO overestimated how many people would lose coverage due to the repeal of the health law’s mandate to have insurance.

Asked if lawmakers were concerned about not knowing the full impact of the bill they would vote on, Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneRepublicans agree — it’s only a matter of time for Scott Pruitt Senate moving ahead with border bill, despite Trump On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Senators hammers Ross on Trump tariffs | EU levies tariffs on US goods | Senate rejects Trump plan to claw back spending MORE (R-S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, said coverage losses from the individual mandate “was most of the CBO score.”

“Most of our members have already been attacked over and over again on previous CBO scores for not having enough people covered back home,” he said, noting their “skin’s pretty thick when it comes to what CBO projects.”

The more important point is giving power back to the states, he said.

“I just think most of our members right now are interested in getting a solution, and I don't think there's any argument you could make that this proposal isn't consistent with our principles of distributing power and flexibility and decision-making back to the states,” Thune said.

The new bill would end funding for ObamaCare’s subsidies to help people afford coverage and the money for Medicaid expansion, and convert those dollars into a block grant to states. Democrats warn the block grants would be too small and would lead to cuts in Medicaid and other health spending.

The bill would also allow states to waive ObamaCare rules, including the prohibition on people with pre-existing conditions being charged higher premiums.  

On Friday, Sen. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyOn The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Trump floats tariffs on European cars | Nikki Haley slams UN report on US poverty | Will tax law help GOP? It's a mystery Overnight Health Care — Presented by the Association of American Medical Colleges — House passes opioid bill | Planned Parenthood sues over teen pregnancy program | Azar to face Senate next week On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Supreme Court allows states to collect sales taxes from online retailers | Judge finds consumer bureau structure unconstitutional | Banks clear Fed stress tests MORE (R-La.), a main sponsor of the bill, dismissed any CBO analysis of the bill’s effect on coverage, saying the agency put too much weight on the effect of repealing the mandate.

“I just don’t care about the coverage numbers because their methodology has been proven to be wrong,” Cassidy said.