Wednesday, May 24, 2017

McConnell says he doesn't know how he will get votes to repeal and replace Obamacare; his Republican colleagues turn gloomy

Mitch McConnell (Reuters photo by Joshua Roberts)
"U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday he does not yet know how Republicans will amass the votes needed to pass legislation now being crafted to dismantle Obamacare," Reuters reports. "He declined to discuss what provisions he might want to see in the bill or provide a timetable for producing even a draft to show to rank-and-file Republican senators and gauge their support."

McConnell needs 50 votes plus the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Mike Pence, and "I don't know how we get to 50 at the moment," he told the wire service. "But that's the goal. And exactly what the composition of that (bill) is, I'm not going to speculate about because it serves no purpose."

Republicans hold 52 Senate seats, but some moderates are firmly opposed to the proposed American Health Care Act passed by the House, and some conservatives, including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, think the bill wouldn't repeal enough of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. "The Republican leader compared the effort to solving a Rubik's Cube," Reuters reports.

"Republican senators quickly distanced themselves from a House-passed Obamacare repeal-and-replacement bill after a new analysis of the legislation was released on Wednesday," The Hill reports. "The American Health Care Act would result in 23 million more uninsured Americans over a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office analysis. The CBO also found that in states that would let insurers charge sick people more, some could be priced out of being able to afford insurance."

McConnell said in a Senate floor speech that the CBO score repeats "things we already know, like that fewer people will buy a product they don't want when the government stops forcing them to," but is a step that will allow the Senate to proceed with its own bill. Still, "It makes everything harder," Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., told Politico.

"Senators reported that they’ve made little progress on the party’s most intractable problems this week, such as how to scale back Obamacare's Medicaid expansion and overall Medicaid spending," which are highly important to Kentucky, report Politico's Burgess Everett and Jennifer Haberkorn. "Frustrations are rising and confidence is diminishing. . . . A feeling of pessimism is settling over Senate Republicans."

Republican senators reported being surprised by McConnell’s Wednesday statement, Politico reports: "Though aides said McConnell was restating the challenge of passing a bill in a sharply divided conference, senators said they also did not take the calculating majority leader’s words as a vote of confidence."

“He doesn’t do much that’s not purposeful. So is he sending a message here of: ‘Don’t anybody think this is likely to happen?’” an unnamed Republican senator told Politico. “If I had to bet my house, I’d bet we don’t get it done.”

McConnell recently warned senators and leadership staffers deliberating privately on the issue that he would bar staff members from the meetings if leaks from the conversations continued. Budget Committee Chair Mike Enzi of Wyoming, who is starting to draft the bill, told Roll Call that the number of leaks “seems normal,” but added, “If every idea was voiced out there, then there would be opposition to every idea before it gets finalized.”

McConnell originally named 12 Republican senators to work with him on the bill, but after he was criticized for not naming any women to the work group, he said any Republican could take part in the discussions. "Despite that, Republican leadership has faced criticism for the manner in which the legislation is being crafted," Roll Call's Joe Williams and Erin Mershon reported. "Several members say the bill is not expected to go through formal committee process."

Or through any Democratic senators. McConnell told Reuters that said health care and taxes remain the top priorities for Republicans, and "added that he will not reach out to the minority Democrats on either one because differences between the two parties are too stark," Reuters reports. He said, "They're not interested in doing what we're interested in doing."

Not allowing Democrats to help draft the bill "will leave McConnell, a conservative 75-year-old Kentuckian with a reputation as a dealmaker, a narrow path to win passage of these ambitious goals, which are also at the head of Republican President Donald Trump's policy agenda," Reuters notes.

"McConnell also said he has not asked the White House for input as the Senate devises its own health care legislation after the Republican-led House of Representatives passed its version on May 4, but may do so in the future," Reuters reports. "I told the president there would be a point at which we might well want him and the vice president to be helpful," McConnell said, adding that Trump and Pence could help with "whipping" up support for a bill.

They might also be needed to get votes for any compromise bill that emerges from a House-Senate conference committee -- if the Senate passes a bill.

Wrapping up the week, Mary Agnes Carey asked Kaiser Health News colleague Julie Rovner, "Why do you think Mitch McConnell would send such a public signal that he’s having a problem getting to 50 votes?" Rovner replied, "I really don’t know. I thought it was kind of curious. One of the things that it might be is that he wants to, you know, light a fire under his caucus, who are having all this disagreement, saying you know this whole thing could, you know, just dissolve if you don’t actually start coming to the table and compromising. Why else do you think he might do it?"

Carey said, "Well, you talk about how the calendar is working against him if he wants to get to tax reform. We’re at Memorial Day, and typically tax reform takes a lot of work, a heavy lift, maybe he just wants to move onto that. Rovner asked, "So basically abandon the whole health reform idea?" Carey acknowledged, "I mean, it sounds a little nutty. And obviously it’s a campaign promise they’ve all made. But also, as we’ve seen, there are problems in the marketplace. You do see insurers leaving over uncertainty. Perhaps they want to let that play out. I’m not sure."

"Neither am I," Rovner replied. For their conversation, click here.

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