Obamacare Repeal May Finally Land On Obama's Desk
He Would Veto It, But Republicans Could At Least Say They Got It Through Congress
By Burgess Everett and Jennifer Haberkorn Politico December 1, 2015|
Republicans are closer than ever to putting a repeal of Obamacare on the president's desk.
After an all-out effort by emissaries and allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over the past two weeks to woo skeptical GOP senators, Senate Republicans are lining up behind a more aggressive plan to gut President Barack Obama's signature achievement through a majority-vote budget mechanism known as reconciliation. Obama, of course, would veto the proposal. But it would allow Republicans to finally say that Congress voted to overturn the health care law they've been railing against since it was signed into law nearly six years ago. Republicans have voted more than 50 times over the past five years to repeal Obamacare, with most of the attempts made in the House.
McConnell presented a plan to Senate Republicans on Monday evening that centered on winding down the expansion of Medicaid in Obamacare for low-income Americans over two years, according to lawmakers. The proposal would gradually phase out Medicaid expansion in preparation for the next president to enact a new health care reform law. It would also scrap a medical device tax and so-called "Cadillac tax" for high-cost plans. In contrast with the House plan, the bill would eliminate the subsidies available to help consumers buy insurance.
Separately, the measure would deny funding to Planned Parenthood as conservatives have demanded.
Senior Republicans senators expressed confidence that their whipping operation and staffers' work over the Thanksgiving break would finally carry them across the finish line after weeks of uncertainty. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said he feels "very good" that the plan will pass and dismissed concerns about going after Planned Parenthood in the wake of the shooting spree in Colorado last week.
"These are separate issues," Cornyn said.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) called the shooting "extremely tragic... but the plan is to move forward with defunding."
Still, Senate aides need to get final approval from the chamber's parliamentarian to move forward a core provision of their package. In an effort to comport with Senate rules, they've designed the measure to essentially repeal the individual and employer mandates by changing the fines associated with them to $0.
"It's still being worked (out)," said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) of the Medicaid proposal and the parliamentarian's scrutiny. "There are ways around it."
But a number of Republican senators from states that have expanded Medicaid voiced concerns about the message the party would be sending to the thousands of constituents that would lose their health care under the GOP's bill.
On Monday, GOP leadership offered reassurances that there will be a two-year transition period that keeps federal subsidies flowing until the next president passes a plan, sources in the room said. And senators were reminded that the president would veto the repeal bill anyway, meaning Republicans could vote on the measure without having to deal with the political risks of actually making major changes to existing law.
Senior Senate staffers were expected to meet with the parliamentarian on Monday night about the mandates, according to Democratic aides.
Republicans expect the Senate to vote as soon as this week, assuming they can persuade 51 of the 54 Senate Republicans to support the repeal plan. A final vote could come as soon as Thursday and the reconciliation bill will be subject to an unlimited number of amendments, allowing both parties to force votes on an array of politically perilous issues. An all-night "vote-a-rama" is possible.
Because the Senate would change a House-passed bill, House Speaker Paul Ryan would have to hold another vote on whatever the Senate approves in order to send the legislation to Obama's desk. Conservatives in both chambers have knocked the House bill as a piecemeal approach.
They say Republicans campaigned on a full repeal of Obamacare and should go harder at the health care law.
The new strategy is aimed at trying to win over conservative Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas - and it appears to be paying dividends after the trio vowed to oppose the House bill as written. Cruz and Rubio were not expected to attend the Senate GOP meeting on Monday night as they continue their presidential campaigns, but sources said senators who are arguing for a more complete repeal are encouraged that the bill goes further than the House-passed bill, which would defund Planned Parenthood and rescind Obamacare's individual and employer mandates.
"I like where it's heading. It looks good," Lee said. "I'm very encouraged."
The changes could win over outside groups, too. The conservative Heritage Action balked at the House bill, too, arguing that it left the Medicaid expansion untouched.
Seven House Republicans voted against the House's reconciliation bill repealing Obamacare in October, though the measure comfortably passed due to the GOP's hefty majority in the lower chamber. But in the Senate, Republicans can afford to lose only three votes.
The decision to target Medicaid expansion and retain the Planned Parenthood defunding provision after a fatal shooting at a women's health care clinic in Colorado reflects a drift away from the concerns of moderate Republican senators such as Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois. But if the conservative trio plus Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) go along with the new plan, the moderates' votes may not be needed.