Bare-bones repeal plan gains steam in Senate

Momentum for a “skinny” ObamaCare repeal bill is growing in the Senate as one by one other measures to reform the nation’s healthcare law fall by the wayside.

Legislation to repeal ObamaCare with a two-year delay only secured 45 votes on Wednesday, a day after a repeal-and-replace bill won just 43 votes in a procedural motion.

Those tallies suggest Senate Republicans may have to narrow their goals to win 51 votes for legislation in the face of unified Democratic opposition.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynMcConnell warns Schumer cutting off debate quickly could stall infrastructure deal GOP skepticism looms over bipartisan spending deal Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet MORE (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters Wednesday that a scaled-down bill might be the best way to move forward on the issue, possibly by holding a conference committee with the House, which approved a broader repeal-and-replace bill.

It “seems to have a lot of benefits, getting us to conference,” Cornyn said.

It’s even possible that Senate passage of a skinny bill could lead to quick action in the House, which is scheduled to begin its recess at the end of the week.

One House GOP lawmaker close to leadership said it's possible the House could stay in until Saturday to pass the skinny repeal bill, which would mean skipping a conference committee. But the lawmaker said the course had not been decided.

It’s not clear that House Republicans would embrace an approach that would fall far short of a full ObamaCare repeal. The skinny bill would be expected to repeal ObamaCare’s individual and employer mandates, as well as a tax on medical devices.

ADVERTISEMENT

“We support the concepts in there, but it’s not a repeal, not even close to repeal,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “We see it as a vehicle to hopefully continue the negotiations.”

Likewise, Cornyn said the House-passed bill, which was rejected by many senators as not doing enough to protect Medicaid, could serve as a “template” for conference negotiations.

While most of the ObamaCare bills being bandied about have Republican opponents, no GOP senators have ruled out voting for the skinny bill — a development that could be music to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care: Florida becomes epicenter of COVID-19 surge | NYC to require vaccination for indoor activities | Biden rebukes GOP governors for barring mask mandates McConnell warns Schumer cutting off debate quickly could stall infrastructure deal Top House Democrat says party would lose elections if they were held today: report MORE’s (R-Ky.) ears.

Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerDemocrat Jacky Rosen becomes 22nd senator to back bipartisan infrastructure deal 9 Senate seats most likely to flip in 2022 On The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare MORE (R-Nev.), perhaps the most vulnerable Republican up for reelection next year, and conservative Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Trump-backed Mike Carey wins GOP primary in Ohio special election Hillicon Valley: Senate report finds major cyber shortcomings in federal agencies | Gig firms seek Mass. ballot question to classify workers as contractors | Blizzard's president steps down after workplace protests MORE (R-Ky.) both said they could support it.

“I look on it ... favorably,” said Heller, whose opposition to an earlier repeal-and-replace bill killed that measure and drew friendly fire from a group aligned with President Trump that ran ads criticizing him in Nevada.

Unlike the House and Senate replacement bills, the skinny bill wouldn’t cut Medicaid.

“I’ve always said I’m for healthcare reform, I’m not for entitlement reform, and that makes it a healthcare reform bill and not an entitlement reform bill,” Heller said.

It’s not certain that McConnell would have the votes to pass the skinny bill, however.

He can afford just two defections, and Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate finalizes .2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill Schumer: Democrats 'on track' to pass bipartisan deal, .5T budget MORE (R-Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate Sarah Palin says she's praying about running for Senate against Murkowski Graham says he has COVID-19 'breakthrough' infection MORE (R-Alaska) both voted against a motion to even open the debate the Senate is now having.

“I don’t know what would be in a skinny repeal bill. That hasn’t been shared with us,” Collins said Wednesday. 

Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanHillicon Valley: Senate report finds major cyber shortcomings in federal agencies | Gig firms seek Mass. ballot question to classify workers as contractors | Blizzard's president steps down after workplace protests Senate report finds major cybersecurity shortcomings among federal agencies The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions MORE (R-Ohio), Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoSeven-figure ad campaign urges GOP to support infrastructure bill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions GOP skepticism looms over bipartisan spending deal MORE (R-W.Va.), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold Johnson Johnson suggests FBI knew more about Jan. 6 planning than has been revealed: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions Ron Johnson praises conservative author bashed by Fauci MORE (R-Wis.) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain to produce 'Don't Sweat the Small Stuff' Lifetime movie starring Heather Locklear An August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done Meghan McCain on Pelosi, McCarthy fight: 'I think they're all bad' MORE (R-Ariz.) all said they needed to find out more about what would be in the skinny bill before making a decision.

A spokesman for Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThis week: Senate starts infrastructure sprint Senators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet MORE (R-Utah) said it “depends how skinny it is” when asked whether Lee would support the bill.

Paul said he would prefer that if the skinny bill passes the Senate, it just be approved by the House.

He said he wanted to avoid a conference committee where lawmakers could “stuff all the goodies and all the bailouts back in there.”

“We’ll simply get back to where we were before and losing conservatives again,” he said.

Heller also expressed concern that the massive cuts to Medicaid and the elimination of funding for ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion could be put back into the bill during conference.

Some senators said they thought the broader repeal-and-replace effort still had a chance of passing after a conference committee, if amendments were added to it in conference.

Two key measures come from Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzUp next in the culture wars: Adding women to the draft Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet 228 Republican lawmakers urge Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade MORE (R-Texas), who wants to let insurers sell plans outside of ObamaCare's regulations, and Portman, who wants to add $100 billion to help people losing Medicaid afford private coverage.

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said he thought a replacement bill could pass with those amendments and that going to conference committee would buy time for the proposals to be scored by the Congressional Budget Office.

If the skinny bill were actually to become law, experts and insurers say repealing the mandate to buy insurance without having a replacement would destabilize health insurance markets and spike premiums.

The Congressional Budget Office previously found that repealing the individual mandate on its own would result in 15 million more uninsured people and raise premiums by about 20 percent.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association on Wednesday warned of “steep premiums increases and diminished choices” if the mandate were repealed.

“A system that allows people to purchase coverage only when they need it drives up costs for everyone,” the group said.

Many senators also aren’t ready to fall back on the bill after years of GOP promises to repeal ObamaCare “root and branch.”

“The skinny plan is not a replacement. I would vote for a skinny plan to get in conference to come up with a replacement,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by AT&T - Simone wins bronze with altered beam routine The job of shielding journalists is not finished The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions MORE (R-S.C.) said. “If I thought that was all the conference was going to do, no, I wouldn’t vote for it.”