Vulnerable Senate Dems don't rule out voting against Obama cost-control board

Several Senate Democrats up for reelection tell The Hill they haven't ruled out bucking President Obama by voting to repeal the health law's cost-control board.

The House is expected to repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board next week, putting pressure on the Senate to follow suit. While the bill has broad bipartisan support in the House, no Senate Democrats have so far signed onto repeal legislation despite coming under increasing pressure to do so.

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"We're looking at it, let's put it that way," said Sen. Joe Machin (D-W.Va.). "We'll weigh the pros and cons" if the bill hits the floor.

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillEx-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity Ocasio-Cortez blasts NYT editor for suggesting Tlaib, Omar aren't representative of Midwest Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (D-Mo.), another conservative Democrat in a tight race, said via a spokesman that she would take a  "hard look" at the proposal if it ever came before the Senate.

Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownBipartisan housing finance reform on the road less taken Hillicon Valley: Google to promote original reporting | Senators demand answers from Amazon on worker treatment | Lawmakers weigh response to ransomware attacks Senate Democrats want answers on 'dangerous' Amazon delivery system MORE (D-Ohio), a liberal, also declined to rule out voting for repeal.

"I'm not going to answer a what-if question when it's not at all clear what would come up," he said.

McCaskill and Brown are reeling from a $3.5 million ad campaign by the conservative 60 Plus seniors' lobby that also targets Sens. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonMedia and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity Al Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Democrats target Florida Hispanics in 2020 MORE (D-Fla.), Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowRepublicans to hand out 'baseball cards' mocking Gary Peters in Michigan Senate Democrats accuse administration of burying climate change reports Democrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' MORE (D-Mich.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDemocratic senators quietly hope Biden wins over rivals GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson to resign at end of year Native American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment MORE (D-Mont.).

Senators are also hearing from a wide array of powerful stakeholder groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association, that are lobbying hard to get the board nixed.

The intense lobbying is putting Obama's deficit-cutting efforts at risk. The IPAB is one of the few provisions of the healthcare reform law that has the potential to cut federal healthcare spending, by recommending cuts to Medicare provider payments if costs start to grow too fast.

Obama, as part of his $3 trillion deficit-reduction plan last year, called for strengthening the IPAB by allowing it to become operational sooner and lowering the growth target at which it kicks into gear. Republicans, however, have attacked the panel of 15 experts as a "rationing board," a charge that has made it harder for Democrats to support the measure.

In the House, 20 Democrats have co-sponsored legislation to repeal the board, and many more had been expected to vote for repeal. That expectation was squashed however after Republicans decided to pay for the $3 billion cost of repealing the board by tying it to medical malpractice legislation that's much more controversial.

The difficulty in finding an acceptable offset may also give Senate Democrats an easy out.

The Senate repeal bill, sponsored by Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTrump walks tightrope on gun control DC statehood push faces long odds despite record support Trump judicial picks face rare GOP opposition MORE (R-Texas), is paid for by cutting the health law's insurance subsidies. That may not be acceptable to Democrats and does nothing to control Medicare costs.

"I think that people who are attacking IPAB need to come up with their own solutions on how we restrain costs," Brown said. "They keep talking about costs, but they never have offered anything."