The House may finally be on its way to scrapping Obamacare, but don’t expect the Senate to go along: Any plan sent over will undergo major surgery — and survival is far from assured.
The hurdles in the upper chamber were on vivid display Wednesday as House Republicans celebrated their breakthrough on the stalled repeal effort. The compromise cut with House Freedom Caucus members won over the right flank, but the changes will almost surely make it harder to pick up votes in the more moderate-minded Senate.
Not to mention that some Senate conservatives still seem opposed to the emerging House deal.
“The Freedom Caucus has done a good job of trying to make the bill less bad,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), one of the lead Senate agitators against the House health care push, said Wednesday. “For me, it’s a big stumbling block still that there’s taxpayer money that’s being given to insurance companies, and I am just not in favor of taxpayer money going to insurance companies.”
Phil Novack, a spokesman for Sen. Ted Cruz , also indicated that the conservative Texas firebrand isn’t sold, saying “significant work remains” in the Senate, “specifically to address Obamacare’s insurance mandates and enact major patient-centered reforms that will further reduce the cost of health care.”
Sources say it may take more than a month for any House health care bill to run through the traps in the Senate, including internal party discussions and an analysis of how the measure would affect the deficit and insurance rolls. No committee hearings are planned because Republicans don’t want to give Democrats a public forum to bash an effort they are not involved in. And similar to the Senate’s dim view of the House’s proposal, the lower chamber may not ultimately be able to pass whatever the Senate is able to produce on Obamacare.
Plus, a procedural rift is beginning to emerge within the GOP, with several Republicans questioning whether reconciliation — the fast-track legislative process that circumvents a filibuster, and thus the need for Democratic support — is even the best avenue for health care overhaul efforts.
Few Senate Republicans are currently engaged in the health care efforts. Several GOP senators declined Wednesday to wade in to the specifics of the revised plan drafted by Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) and Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), taking pains to note that senators will probably have to rewrite it anyway.
“It isn’t discussed a lot over here,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). “Except for the hard work of [Susan] Collins and [Bill] Cassidy, there’s hardly anything being done.”
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), the party’s chief vote counter, also downplayed any notion that the new House version of an Obamacare replacement will sail through the Senate intact.
“Once they pass a bill, my assumption is, the Senate’s going to take a look at it but not necessarily be rubber-stamping what they’re proposing,” Cornyn said. “So I would anticipate that we’ll do what we used to do all the time which is, the House will pass a bill, we’ll pass a bill and then we’ll reconcile those in a conference committee.”
Weeks after the spectacular collapse of Obamacare repeal efforts last month, MacArthur and Meadows struck a deal with new language that would allow states to opt out of several key Obamacare provisions, such as its ban on charging sick people higher premiums and the so-called essential health benefits mandate that requires insurers to provide a set of minimum benefits.
The new language was enough to earn the formal endorsement of the Freedom Caucus, but House moderates who were opposed to the previous plan remain wary of backing a proposal that could cause constituents with pre-existing conditions to lose affordable health care coverage. In fact, the new plan may be having the reverse effect on some centrists: Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) had supported the initial Obamacare replacement but now says he’s a “maybe.”
Influential Senate Republicans also raised doubts about whether the new House proposal is workable.