GOP hits the gas on ObamaCare repeal

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTeachers union launches 0K ad buy calling for education funding in relief bill No signs of breakthrough for stalemated coronavirus talks State aid emerges as major hurdle to reviving COVID-19 talks MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday formally set an ambitious schedule for his conference to repeal and replace ObamaCare, promising his members will get draft legislation on Thursday with a floor vote next week.

McConnell says Republicans, who have held multiple meetings about healthcare reform every week since early May, have debated the issue long enough.

“I expect to have a discussion draft on Thursday and we will go to the bill obviously once we get a CBO score, likely next week,” McConnell told reporters, referring to a cost projection and analysis from the Congressional Budget Office.

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In putting his foot on the gas pedal, McConnell is pressuring centrists and conservatives alike to rally around ObamaCare repeal, a top priority for President Trump that congressional Republicans have been promising to deliver for years.

McConnell seems to have some momentum, though he can only afford two defections and lawmakers across his conference are nervous about the vote.

One source familiar with the private deliberations of moderate Republicans agonizing over whether to support the bill said the legislation hasn’t improved over the past two weeks of talks and, if anything, has gotten somewhat worse.

Conservatives are also disgruntled, according to a source familiar with internal deliberations.

Sens. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Defense: Air Force general officially becomes first African American service chief | Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure | State Department's special envoy for Iran is departing the Trump administration Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure Trump signs major conservation bill into law MORE (R-Utah) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSens. Markey, Cruz clash over coronavirus relief: 'It's not a goddamn joke Ted' China sanctioning Rubio, Cruz in retaliatory move over Hong Kong The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Negotiators signal relief bill stuck, not dead MORE (R-Texas) have insisted on including language that would exempt states from the ObamaCare regulation that requires insurance companies to sell affordable plans to people with pre-existing medical conditions.

McConnell has so far refused to put language in the bill that would eliminate the so-called community rating regulatory requirement that conservatives say has caused insurance premiums to soar.

Instead of letting up in the face of complaints, McConnell is effectively daring his Republican colleagues to derail legislation they have promised to pass since 2010, when Congress first passed ObamaCare.

One centrist Republican senator said McConnell is forcing the conference to vote on the legislation before many lawmakers feel comfortable doing so. But at the same time, the source acknowledged that McConnell has warned his conference “for months” to expect a vote before July 4.

“When the leader says something, he likes to stick to it,” said the senator.

McConnell on Tuesday waved aside concerns from Republican and Democratic colleagues alike that he is ramming the legislation through the Senate before there’s time for adequate review.

He said fellow senators “will have plenty of time” to study the bill.

“We’ve been discussing all the elements of this endlessly for seven years. Everybody pretty well understands them. Everybody will have an adequate time to take a look at it. I think this will be about as transparent as it could be.”

Democrats have sought to slow progress on the bill but in reality have little power to throw McConnell off his game. The legislation is moving under special budget rules that prevent a filibuster and will limit floor debate to 20 hours.

“I think our most effective strategy is to highlight the process and the extremely peculiar nature of it, and then let public pressure on the few Republican senators who are going to make the difference begin to work,” Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Democrats seek to exploit Trump-GOP tensions in COVID-19 talks Liability shield fight threatens to blow up relief talks MORE (D-R.I.) told The Hill.

McConnell has also heard complaints from his own members about the healthcare process. There have been no hearings on the GOP effort, and key meetings have all been behind closed doors.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBill Maher delivers mock eulogy for Trump Hillary Clinton roasts NYT's Maureen Dowd over column CNN's Ana Navarro to host Biden roundtable on making 'Trump a one-term president' MORE (R-Ariz.) complained that he hadn’t met an American who had yet seen the Senate Republican bill, speculating ironically that probably “the Russians have been able to hack in and gotten most of it.”

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOn The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire Hillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns MORE (R-Alaska), a centrist who is undecided on whether to vote for the legislation, said, “I would like a more open process, that’s for sure.”

None of the Republicans airing process grievances has said that they will vote against the bill, however, giving the complaints a more theatrical than threatening appearance.

Republicans must wait for the CBO’s score before they can proceed.

McConnell will first bring the House-passed American Health Care Act, which has already been reviewed and scored by the Senate parliamentarian, to the floor.

The Senate version will be offered as an amendment, and lawmakers will need to have a score before taking it up, a GOP aide explained.

Senate Republicans initially projected that it could take as long as two weeks to get a CBO score, but they have sped up the process by submitting chunks of the bill to the agency for analysis while putting together the pieces of the package.

McConnell is taking a gamble by putting the bill on the floor before knowing for sure he has enough votes.

He stopped short of predicting victory, promising instead to make an all-out push.

“We’re going to make every effort to pass a bill that dramatically changes the current healthcare law,” he said.

Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynCOVID-19 bill limiting liability would strike the wrong balance From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters Skepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal MORE (Texas) sounded a more bullish tone earlier in the day.

He predicted success even though the legislation has yet to be finalized.

“It’s my job to find 50 votes, and we’re going to have 50 votes, because I think the alternative is going to be disaster for people who buy insurance on the individual market,” he told reporters. 

 

Jessie Hellmann, Peter Sullivan and Rachel Roubein contributed.