Senate GOP pushes off ObamaCare bills until January

Senate Republicans are punting two ObamaCare bills into next year as lawmakers scramble to avoid a government shutdown. 

GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's visit to battleground Ohio overshadowed by coronavirus New polls show tight races for Graham, McConnell McConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill MORE (Maine) and Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderTrump-backed Hagerty wins Tennessee GOP Senate primary The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Key 48 hours loom as negotiators push for relief deal McConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill MORE (Tenn.) said they have asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCoronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks Overnight Health Care: Ohio governor tests positive for COVID-19 ahead of Trump's visit | US shows signs of coronavirus peak, but difficult days lie ahead | Trump: COVID-19 vaccine may be ready 'right around' Election Day MORE (R-Ky.) to not bring the bills up this week. 

“Rather than considering a broad year-end funding agreement as we expected, it has become clear that Congress will only be able to pass another short-term extension to prevent a government shutdown and to continue a few essential programs. For this reason, we have asked Senator McConnell not to offer this week our legislation," they said in a joint statement. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Collins and Alexander said the ObamaCare legislation could wait until the Senate considers a slate of must-pass bills, including a full-year funding deal, in January. 

"Instead, we will offer it after the first of the year when the Senate will consider the omnibus spending bill, the Children’s Health Insurance Program reauthorization, funding for Community Health Centers, and other legislation that was to have been enacted this week," they said. 

Their comments come after Senate Republicans said they were considering whether to drop their plan to attach the health-care bills to a continuing resolution (CR) needed to avert a government shutdown.

"I support what they're trying to do but I think the CR is a little up in the air because we don't know what the House is going to be able to pass," Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSkepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal Republicans uncomfortably playing defense Negotiators hit gas on coronavirus talks as frustration mounts MORE (R-Texas) told reporters on Wednesday.

Cornyn added that if the two bills don't end up in this week's stopgap spending bill, needed to prevent a government shutdown starting at midnight Friday, they could be attached to the full-year funding bill that is expected to come up for a vote in January. 

"One possibility is we would put it on the CR. The other possibility is it would be part of the omnibus on Jan. 19," he said, while stressing Senate Republicans are deferring to Alexander and Collins.

ADVERTISEMENT

Collins told reporters late last month that she had gotten a promise from McConnell to include the two bills in a "must-pass bill" this year, which she said was necessary after GOP leadership agreed to repeal ObamaCare's individual mandate in the tax bill.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said earlier this month that repealing the individual mandate would result in an additional 13 million people becoming uninsured by 2027.

Despite widespread skepticism that the health-care bills would be able to pass the House, Collins remained confident that the two bills, one by Alexander and Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayPelosi huddles with chairmen on surprise billing but deal elusive House approves two child care bills aimed at pandemic GOP, Democratic relief packages B apart on vaccine funding MORE (D-Wash.) and the second by Collins and Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William Nelson Trump, facing trouble in Florida, goes all in NASA names DC headquarters after agency's first Black female engineer Mary W. Jackson NASA, SpaceX and the private-public partnership that caused the flight of the Crew Dragon MORE (D-Fla.), would be included in the legislation this year.

"The vice president and I had a discussion yesterday that reinforced that agreement that the bills will be considered before the end of the year," Collins told reporters late last week, referring to a call with Vice President Pence.

She said at the time that the Dec. 22 continuing resolution was the "likely" vehicle for the two pieces of legislation.

Collins and Alexander added on Thursday that McConnell remained committed to trying to move the two bills this year, but it became clear they wouldn't pass. 

“Also, in order to succeed, our legislation must be bipartisan, and the Senate Democratic leader said on Tuesday that Democrats would not support it in the current environment even though as recently as October he said that all Democrats would," they said. 

Democrats had warned they wouldn't support the Alexander-Murray bill if it was tied to the tax bill's repeal of the individual mandate. 

And the idea of including the two bills — one ensuring cost sharing reduction payments to insurers and the second providing funding for "reinsurance" programs aimed at bringing down premiums — generated a backlash among House conservatives.

Republicans said on Tuesday that the two ObamaCare measures had to include the Hyde Amendment language prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortion.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyJudge throws out House GOP lawsuit over proxy voting Republicans fear disaster in November Gaetz set to endorse primary opponent of fellow Florida GOP lawmaker MORE (R-Calif.) separately told The Washington Post on Wednesday that he didn't expect the House to vote on the Alexander-Murray bill this year. 

Republicans are racing to avoid a shutdown on Friday at midnight.

ADVERTISEMENT

House Republicans had been expected to force a vote on a package linking a full year of defense to a short-term fix for the rest of the government. That plan, however, appeared to fall apart late Tuesday. Now it appears Republicans will instead pass a "clean" continuing resolution that funds the government into January. 

Collins noted that she had spoken to Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanBudowsky: Why I back Kennedy, praise Markey Democratic super PAC quotes Reagan in anti-Trump ad set to air on Fox News: 'Are you better off?' Trump lashes out at Reagan Foundation after fundraising request MORE (R-Wis.) as of Wednesday and he told her that the House "remains committed to passing legislation to provide for high-risk pools and other reinsurance mechanisms similar to the bipartisan legislation I have introduced." 

"He pointed out that by waiting until early next year, we will be able to use a new CBO baseline that will result in more funding being available for reinsurance programs that have been proven effective in lowering premiums while protecting people with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis," she said.