GOP faces risks, rewards in rushing to repeal vote without CBO score

GOP faces risks, rewards in rushing to repeal vote without CBO score
© Greg Nash

Senate Republicans are rushing toward a vote on an ObamaCare repeal bill without getting a full analysis from the Congressional Budget Office on how their legislation would affect coverage and premiums.

It’s a risky move, as Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsPoll: More voters oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination than support it Feinstein's office says it has received threats over Kavanaugh Ford taps Obama, Clinton alum to navigate Senate hearing MORE (R-Maine) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainArizona race becomes Senate GOP’s ‘firewall’ Trump administration weakens methane pollution standards for drilling on public lands Another recession could hit US in 2019, says credit union association chief MORE (R-Ariz.) have both said they’d prefer to have a full score before casting their votes.

Yet it could also pay dividends for Republicans, who would prefer to hold a vote on their measure without headlines about a CBO score that could project that millions would lose insurance or see their premiums rise under the legislation.

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Republicans can lose only two Republican votes and still pass the bill under special budgetary rules that prevent Democrats from filibustering the legislation.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulConservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Senate approves 4B spending bill Some employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report MORE (R-Ky.) has publicly announced his opposition, meaning the GOP can’t afford to lose both Collins and McCain. Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiAlaska gov, lieutenant gov come out against Kavanaugh The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Budowsky: Kavanaugh and the rights of women MORE (R-Alaska) is another big swing vote.

The GOP is in a rush because it faces a Sept. 30 deadline to pass ObamaCare repeal legislation under the budget reconciliation rules.

The CBO said Monday that it would not have time before a vote next week to provide an analysis of how many people would lose coverage under the bill, or whether premiums would rise. Instead, it will only have time to provide a bare-bones analysis of the bill’s effect on spending.

Collins criticized the decision to move ahead without a full CBO score as “problematic.”

“That's part of the problem with short-circuiting the process,” she added.

McCain said that he too would like to have a full estimate from the CBO, though he also emphasized his broader call for regular order, meaning committee hearings and amendments from both parties.

“I'd like to have an estimate, but again you've heard me time and time again: We need to go through regular order,” McCain said.

Democrats are blasting Republicans for going forward with a possible vote next week without a full analysis.

“This is the poorest way of legislating that I’ve seen in all my years here,” Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) said Monday. “To try and rush this bill through: no hearings, no CBO score, no knowledge of how it actually affects your constituents. How can we do that?”

The Senate Finance Committee did schedule a hearing for Monday, though Democrats argue that is only for show.

Some Republicans are defending the decision to move forward without a full CBO score. They say CBO’s previous analyses of GOP ObamaCare repeal bills were inaccurate because CBO overestimated how many people would lose coverage due to the repeal of the health law’s mandate to have insurance.

Asked if lawmakers were concerned about not knowing the full impact of the bill they would vote on, Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGoogle says it continues to allow apps to access Gmail user data Fight looms over national privacy law Want to improve health care? Get Americans off of their couches MORE (R-S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, said coverage losses from the individual mandate “was most of the CBO score.”

“Most of our members have already been attacked over and over again on previous CBO scores for not having enough people covered back home,” he said, noting their “skin’s pretty thick when it comes to what CBO projects.”

The more important point is giving power back to the states, he said.

“I just think most of our members right now are interested in getting a solution, and I don't think there's any argument you could make that this proposal isn't consistent with our principles of distributing power and flexibility and decision-making back to the states,” Thune said.

The new bill would end funding for ObamaCare’s subsidies to help people afford coverage and the money for Medicaid expansion, and convert those dollars into a block grant to states. Democrats warn the block grants would be too small and would lead to cuts in Medicaid and other health spending.

The bill would also allow states to waive ObamaCare rules, including the prohibition on people with pre-existing conditions being charged higher premiums.  

On Friday, Sen. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyOvernight Health Care: HHS diverts funds to pay for detaining migrant children | Health officials defend transfers | Lawmakers consider easing drug company costs in opioids deal Overnight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens Bipartisan senators unveil proposal to crack down on surprise medical bills MORE (R-La.), a main sponsor of the bill, dismissed any CBO analysis of the bill’s effect on coverage, saying the agency put too much weight on the effect of repealing the mandate.

“I just don’t care about the coverage numbers because their methodology has been proven to be wrong,” Cassidy said.