Senate GOP Health Care Proposals Flounder on Second Day of Voting

Economy

The Senate Republican effort to dismantle Obamacare and Medicaid reached a key fork in the road as debate ended late Wednesday, as all of the strike-all amendments from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell failed and Democrats said they would offer no more amendments because they weren’t sure what specific legislation they were dealing with.


“I rise this evening to announce the Democrats will offer no further amendments to the pending legislation until the Republican leader shows us what the final legislation will be,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Clearly, the Senate bill, repeal and replace, has failed. Senator [Rand] Paul’s bill, repeal without replace, has also failed. We know the Republicans will not take a final vote on the underlying House bill, which is still the pending legislation. And now the Republican leadership team has been telling the press about a yet-to-be-disclosed final bill.”

“If the reports are true, the Republicans will offer a ‘skinny’ repeal plan,” he continued, referring to a bill that is believed only to repeal the Obamacare mandate that every adult have a health plan, requirement that larger employers offer coverage and medical devices tax. “We just heard from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office that under such a plan, as reported in the press, 16 million Americans would lose their health insurance and millions more would pay a 20 percent in their premiums—at least 20 percent.”

“We don’t know if skinny repeal is going to be their final bill, but if it is the CBO says it would cause costs to go up and millions to lose insurance,” Schumer said. “Democrats are not going to continue to try to amend the House plan that is already dead. Certainly we’re not going to do that while there is some secret legislation, skinny repeal, it’s reported, waiting to emerge from the Leader’s office.”

Schumer’s throwing down the gauntlet capped a long day with no agreement between Democrats and Republicans on how to move forward, only voting no on the most sweeping proposals to gut Obamacare and cut the health law’s taxes on the wealthy.

While Democrats repeatedly urged Republicans to follow Senator John McCain’s advice and start over working in a normal bipartisan fashion, there were presentations by a handful of red-state Republicans who salivated at the prospect of diverting Obamacare subsidies from states like New York and California to boost health spending in states that rejected expanding their Medicaid programs under the law. That prospect was discussed under the larger umbrella of turning Medicaid into state block grants where federal subsidies would be per capita allocations—which would mean rationing care. (The states that would gain the most are the ones that historically have spent the smallest sums on healthcare for their residents.)

“This is one of the most irresponsible policy making processes that I have seen in my time in the United States Senate,” said Minnesota’s Al Franken. “What we should do is just what Sen. McCain called for in his speech yesterday. Pursue regular order. Work together, Republicans and Democrats, and seek out compromise. If we reject this wrong-headed effort, then I, and many of my colleagues are ready and committed to work in a bipartisan way on reforms that will expand coverage, lower costs and improve care.”

“Let’s have bipartisan hearings on the individual [insurance] market, on drug prices, and more,” he continued. “Let’s call in non-partisan expert witnesses. Let’s have meaningful committee and floor debates. Let’s fix what needs fixing about the Affordable Care Act… To my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, stand up to the bullying. Stand up to the lies. And work with us to improve people’s lives.”

Shortly before Franken and Schumer’s remarks, McConnell introduced an amendment to his previous amendment, but dispensed with having the Senate clerk read the bill. That might be the ‘skinny repeal’ Schumer cited, but it might not. Either way, it means legislative staffers and analysts will be scrambling late into the night to prepare more analyses for Thursday morning, when debate begins again at 10am eastern time.

There are about nine hours of debate remaining before the healthcare legislation must be passed. Some Democrats fear that McConnell is running out the clock and will simply present a hollow bill at the very last minute that can be passed, allowing the Senate to pass something and the White House to declare victory—which in reality, puts the gutting of Obamacare and Medicaid back in the House’s hands.

This drama may not be over until Friday, unless somehow lightning strikes and the Senate Majority Leader realizes he has no choice but to forge a bipartisan path. But McConnell has not shown any previous indication that he’s open to that approach.     

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