GOP: Cruz-Lee proposal hinges on budget score

GOP: Cruz-Lee proposal hinges on budget score
© Greg Nash

Senate Republican leaders say whether they make a controversial conservative change to their healthcare bill depends on the results of an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office. 

The proposal from Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump administration grants funding extension for Texas testing sites Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill banning federal government use of facial recognition tech | House lawmakers roll out legislation to establish national cyber director | Top federal IT official to step down GOP lawmakers join social media app billed as alternative to Big Tech MORE (R-Texas) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate panel votes 21-1 to back Justice IG measure over Graham objections Senators offer bill to expand charitable giving tax break Overnight Energy: Senate passes major lands conservation bill | Mnuchin ordered to give Native American tribes full stimulus funding | Key Republican jeopardizes Trump consumer safety nominee MORE (R-Utah), which is key to winning their support, is currently being analyzed by the CBO. 

“I think it's going to depend entirely — I think a lot of it is going to depend on how CBO evaluates it,” Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneRepublicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names McConnell: Trump shouldn't veto defense bill over renaming Confederate bases Senate Republicans defend Trump's response on Russian bounties MORE (S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, told reporters Monday evening after a leadership meeting. 

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“What does this do to coverage numbers and how does it affect the overall pool and how does it affect rates for everybody else that's left in the pool?” Thune added. 

The proposal would allow insurers to offer plans that do not meet ObamaCare regulations as long as they also offered a plan that does. Cruz and Lee argue it would increase choices for consumers and allow younger and healthier people to buy cheaper plans. 

The proposal has drawn pushback from more moderate members of the conference, who worry that only sick people would be left buying the ObamaCare plans, spiking their premiums. 

“I do think it’s going to be hard to get support,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchDACA remains in place, but Dreamers still in limbo Bottom line Bottom line MORE (R-Utah) said of the proposal. 

“I think we’re trying to get some basic information from the CBO, about what that score would look like,” added Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenators push foreign media to disclose if they are registered as foreign agents GOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday New legislation required to secure US semiconductor leadership MORE (Texas), the No. 2 Republican in the upper chamber. “A lot of people, including me, support the principle, but we need to know what the numbers look like.”

Cruz and Lee’s support for the bill is crucial to it having the votes to pass, and it is unclear how they would support the bill without the amendment. But its inclusion could further alienate moderates who already oppose the bill. 

Republicans are expected to add $45 billion for opioid abuse treatment to try to win over moderates. But that so far has not been enough. 

Moderates are also looking for Medicaid changes. 

Thune said that the number of years to phase out the funds for ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion is relatively settled and unlikely to change from the initial bill, which ends the funds in 2024. 

He said a bigger issue is how quickly a new cap on overall Medicaid funding would grow after 2025. Some moderates want to raise the cap so it cuts Medicaid spending less deeply. 

Thune said the level of the cap would likely be voted on as an amendment on the Senate floor either way. 

Separately, he added it is possible that there could be changes to the tax credits in the bill to make them more generous, but emphasized there is already funding in a stability fund aimed at helping people afford coverage. 

That stability fund could be increased.   

Jordain Carney contributed.