Republicans’ incredible shrinking Obamacare repeal – Politico


Sens. Steve Daines and Mitch McConnell are pictured. | Getty

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), pictured with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), has offered an amendment to see whether Democrats will support a single-payer health care system, a vote designed to put moderate Democrats in a tough spot.

GOP leaders are eyeing a narrow plan to dismantle the health law, but it’s still not clear what can pass the Senate.

Senate Republicans’ once ambitious Obamacare repeal effort is shriveling even further, with growing doubts over whether the GOP can fully eliminate the health law’s coverage mandates or any of its taxes.

The GOP’s “skinny” repeal bill, in other words, is getting even skinnier.

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Sources on and off Capitol Hill on Thursday described a new outline of a bill that would repeal the law’s individual mandate and partially delay its employer mandate. It also would defund Planned Parenthood and give states more flexibility to opt out of Obamacare regulations; the law’s Prevention and Public Fund is also expected to be sharply cut. But there are growing concerns among Republicans that budget requirements will prevent the Senate from repealing any of Obamacare’s taxes.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) emailed GOP senators on Thursday outlining the current provisions in the skinny repeal bill; the message noted that the employer mandate would be repealed for a minimum of six years, according to a source who viewed the email. Another GOP source said the employer mandate would be halted for eight years.

“The one thing that unifies our conference is the repeal of the individual mandate and the employer mandate,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Thursday. “Those are two of Obamacare’s biggest overreaches and are essential to Obamacare’s functioning.”

Even as the chamber careens toward a final decision on whether to repeal, replace or revise Obamacare, with no certain outcome, Republican leaders are desperate to get rid of their political headache after several failed votes earlier this week.

“We have to pass something. … But a lot depends on what’s in the skinny bill,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the most senior GOP senator and chairman of the Finance Committee. “The leader’s going to call up what he thinks can pass and he’s probably going to be right. [But] I’ve been wrong before. This is a touchy thing right now.”

The Senate will begin a series of votes on Thursday afternoon designed to test what senators will support for an Obamacare replacement bill, dubbed a “vote-a-rama.” This will help determine whether Senate Republicans can reach any consensus among themselves. The session could last until Friday morning, depending on GOP and Democratic maneuvers, and culminates in a final passage vote.

Initial votes will include a GOP effort to see whether Democrats will support a single-payer health care system, as many in their base support. The amendment was offered by Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and is designed to put moderate Democrats in a tough spot.

McConnell is expected at some point to unveil the GOP’s highly anticipated “skinny repeal” bill — the narrowest effort to dismantle Obamacare that can win at least 50 votes. Many Republicans believe this proposal may be their only hope for reaching an agreement inside the GOP conference and forcing House-Senate talks to hash out a final Obamacare repeal package.

“We all know this is likely to be a long night. It’s part of a long process that has taken a lot of hard work from a lot of dedicated colleagues already,” McConnell said on the floor Thursday. “One phase of that process will end when the Senate concludes voting this week, but it will not signal the end of our work — not yet. Ultimately, the goal is to send legislation from Congress to the president — legislation that can finally move us beyond Obamacare’s years of failures.”

McConnell won’t introduce the bill until after a meeting of all Republican senators today.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he’s been assured by senators in both parties that if the bill fails, the Senate will start over in committee. But Republicans want to get the issue off their plate and are seeking a bridge to negotiations with the House, not necessarily a final policy solution.

They want to pass something — anything — and hope they can forge a broader deal in conference committee with the House and White House, even if it could reopen painful party divisions on proposed cuts to Medicaid spending and efforts to slash Obamacare regulations.

McConnell and his top lieutenants started from a bare-bones plan that would repeal Obamacare’s individual and employer coverage mandate, as well as the medical device tax. Such a move could cause 16 million fewer people to have health insurance and could lead to a sharp spike in premiums, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates. But even those limited ambitions may be scaled back.

Republicans are seeking to repeal as many of Obamacare’s taxes as they can, but doing so would blow holes in the budget. Some sources off the Hill doubted Republicans would even be able to repeal the medical device tax.

Some GOP senators were pushing for billions of dollars in new funding for fighting opioid addiction to be included in leadership’s package, part of an effort to restore the $45 billion in such funding already promised by McConnell in previous bills. But that has been ruled out as spending too much money to hit budget targets; the Senate must hit at least $133 billion in savings, as required under Senate rules, GOP sources said.

The parliamentarian has found that language allowing states to undo some of Obamacare’s consumer protections might not be allowed under reconciliation rules, according to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the ranking member on the Budget Committee.

“We’re trying to come up with a package that does the things that we want and I think principally those are going to be the mandates,” said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the third-ranking Senate Republican. Asked if that would include tax cuts he said: “at the moment, it doesn’t look like it.”

Some conservatives feel that an agreement is within reach, even if they have to set aside — for now — their goal of full repeal.

“I’d like to repeal 100 percent of Obamacare,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said. “But I’ve said I’ll settle for whatever we can find consensus (on) as long as it’s repeal and doesn’t include an insurance bailout.”

Yet several moderate GOP senators like Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia have not signed on to the scaled-back plan, although Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada signaled support Wednesday. Ohio and Nevada’s governors oppose the “skinny” repeal bill, which could cause Heller and Portman to break with their popular state leaders.

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