Senate

GOP senators distance themselves from House ObamaCare repeal bill

Greg Nash

Republican senators quickly distanced themselves from a House-passed ObamaCare repeal and replacement bill after a new analysis of the legislation was released on Wednesday.

The American Health Care Act (AHCA) would result in 23 million more uninsured Americans over a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office analysis. The CBO also found that in states that would let insurers charge sick people more, some could be priced out of being able to afford insurance.

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) — who was opposed to previous versions of the House bill — said again Wednesday he is “opposed to the American Health Care Act in its current form.”

“The AHCA is a first step, but not the solution; now the Senate is doing its own work to put forth its own ideas that could work for states like Nevada,” Heller, considered one of the most vulnerable Republican senators up for reelection next year, said in a statement.

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Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who has offered an alternative bill with GOP Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), added, “Congress’s focus must be to lower premiums with coverage which passes the Jimmy Kimmel Test. The ACHA does not. I am working with Senate colleagues to do so.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who is deeply involved in the Senate’s discussions, reiterated after the CBO analysis what he wants in the Senate bill, including lower premiums and giving individuals with pre-existing conditions access to insurance.

“It’s informative to know the estimated impact of the House health care bill – but the Senate is writing its own bill, which will receive its own score from the Congressional Budget Office before the Senate votes,” he said.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) didn’t even mention the House-passed bill in his statement but argued that ObamaCare is “collapsing” and the Senate will work on its own proposal.

“My Republican colleagues and I in the Senate continue our work on a new health care bill that emphasizes lower costs for families and access to high quality care for all,” he said.

Collins, citing the CBO analysis, said the House bill would increase the number of uninsured Americans and “disproportionately affect older, lower-income Americans.”

“I urge my colleagues to support the comprehensive ACA replacement plan Senator Cassidy and I introduced that will allow more Americans to obtain health insurance, preserve significant consumer protections, and help moderate the cost of health care,” she said.

Cassidy and Collins introduced a bill earlier this year that would allow states to keep ObamaCare if they wanted to. They’ve also been meeting with a group of moderate Republican and Democratic senators to see if they could come up with a bipartisan healthcare bill.

The House passed the ACHA roughly three weeks ago without a CBO analysis on the version of the bill lawmakers voted on. Senate Republicans have met several times a week since then to look for a path forward.

GOP senators downplayed the importance of the CBO analysis, stressing that they are crafting their own proposal that is expected to gut the House legislation.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is part of a Senate GOP healthcare working group, told reporters that the Senate’s proposal will be “significantly different.”

“We’re focused on how to solve the underlying problem and not spending a great deal of time dwelling on one scoring estimate for a proposal that’s not going to be the underlying bill,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made a similar prebuttal from the Senate floor, saying the CBO score is only “a technical, procedural step” that would repeat “things we already know.”

“Whatever CBO says … this much is absolutely clear, the status quo under ObamaCare is completely unacceptable,” he said.

Republican senators have been using the Senate floor, as well as weekly leadership press conferences, to stress the need to fulfill a yearslong campaign pledge to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) added after the CBO analysis was released that “it’s no secret ObamaCare is collapsing under its own weight.”

“Families need real relief now from the limited choices and skyrocketing costs of the failed law. Doing nothing is not an option. The Senate is working now to build on the efforts in the House to make our health care system more affordable and accessible for everyone,” he said in a statement.

McConnell will need to win over at least 50 of the Senate’s 52 Republicans and could need to lean on Vice President Pence to break a tie to get an ObamaCare repeal bill through the Senate. No Democrats are expected to vote for the bill.

Senate Republicans want to vote before the August recess, giving them roughly two months to bring up a bill.

“I don’t know how we get to 50 [votes] at the moment,” McConnell told Reuters on Wednesday. “But that’s the goal. And exactly what the composition of that [bill] is I’m not going to speculate about because it serves no purpose.”  

Democrats quickly launched their attack in the wake of the new CBO score. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) argued that the analysis is “directly relevant,” pushing back against GOP efforts to distance themselves from the House bill.  

“The Senate product, if it ever emerges from these secret meetings, will simply be a variant of the House bill,” Murphy told reporters during a quickly organized press conference with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other senators.

No Democrats are expected to support the effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

But GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) argued in the wake of the CBO analysis that allowing ObamaCare to collapse and then work with Democrats to replace it might be “the most effective path forward.”

“After Obamacare collapses, we should challenge Democrats to work with us to fix the mess they created,” he said on Twitter.

According to the CBO analysis, while insurers could withdraw from ObamaCare’s market place, overall there is “anticipated to cause sufficient demand for insurance by enough people…for the market to be stable in most areas.” 

As news of the CBO analysis broke, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) was targeting Democratic Sens. Bob Casey (Pa.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Jon Tester (Mont.) over their support for ObamaCare.

The three senators are part of a group of 10 Democrats up for reelection in states won by Trump. 

Tags Bob Casey Chris Murphy Chuck Schumer Dean Heller Heidi Heitkamp Jon Tester Lamar Alexander Lindsey Graham Mitch McConnell Susan Collins Ted Cruz Tim Scott

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