(SL) – Politico reports, Senate Republicans are highly unlikely to vote next week to repeal Obamacare and are tentatively preparing for a vote in approximately two weeks, according to senators and officials on Capitol Hill and in the White House.
The Congressional Budget Office is reviewing legislative language sent by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; the Senate parliamentarian must weigh in on controversial proposals; and GOP leaders still have not forged a bill that can get 50 votes. Those factors are likely to push the pivotal roll call closer to the end of July than immediately after the July 4 recess.
“There’s a lot of moving pieces. My sense is the week of the 17th is when we start moving on it,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in an interview Thursday morning.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said on Wednesday evening that such a vote is “several weeks away,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
A White House official said there would be no health care vote next week and that the White House and Senate Republicans would consider nominations on the floor until the health care vote is ready. Republican leaders in the House and Senate originally hoped for a repeal vote as early as January.
A spokesman for McConnell said no final decision has been made.
“We are discussing the legislation with members and the CBO, but we haven’t announced” a schedule yet, said Don Stewart, a McConnell spokesman.
McConnell said Thursday that if the GOP bill ultimately falls short, Congress will have to pass a bipartisan measure to shore up health insurance markets.
“If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement, then some kind of action with regard to the private health insurance market must occur,” McConnell said at a Rotary Club luncheon in Glasgow, Ky., the Associated Press reported. “No action is not an alternative… We’ve got the insurance markets imploding all over the country, including in this state.”
The GOP is still far from having sufficient support to pass a health care bill.
The initial draft has received little cover over the recess, with few senators speaking favorably of the bill and many deciding against even holding town hall events. Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), a reliable leadership ally, told health care industry representatives on Wednesday that he “doesn’t support the bill as it stands,” according to the Bismarck Tribune.
Health care is “almost impossible to try to solve” at the partisan, 50-vote threshold that Senate Republicans are using, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) said Thursday at a town hall in Palco, Kan. He came out against the original draft as well, surprising Republicans.
“We ought to try to take care of people who were harmed by the Affordable Care Act by also providing the kind of need and care [to those] who were benefited by the Affordable Care Act, a difficult proposition,” Moran said.
Conservatives are arguing to gut more regulations, and senators from Medicaid expansion states are queasy about future cuts to Medicaid spending. President Donald Trump has floated simply repealing the bill and replacing it later, and he’s found support from conservative GOP Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.
In a flurry of deal-making, GOP leaders made some inroads in building support after a vote was called off last week by adding opioid funding, allowing health savings accounts to pay for insurance premiums and potentially leaving some taxes in place to pay for more generous benefits. Republicans are strongly leaning toward leaving taxes on the wealthy in place after absorbing weeks of Democratic criticism that their bill offered tax cuts for the rich and Medicaid cuts for the poor.
However, there is unlikely to be a consensus new draft of the bill next week until there’s tentative buy-in from the vast majority of the 52-member caucus.
“We’re making progress on it. … Until everything’s decided, nothing’s decided,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) late last week. “We’re talking to the parliamentarian, we’re trying to figure out what’s doable.”
The White House official argued that the heavy lifting has been done on the bill. But the CBO score for an amendment from Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to allow the sale of cheap, deregulated health plans along with last week’s additions to the bill will be pivotal in determining whether it has gained support after the original draft resulted in mass defections.
Critics in both parties say the Lee-Cruz proposal would essentially put people with pre-existing conditions in one insurance pool and allow young, healthy people to buy cheaper plans in a separate pool.
“Americans with pre-existing conditions will almost certainly be left without access to affordable and quality health care, making this even worse than the House bill on this issue,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
But the amendment is gaining steam on the right. On Wednesday, two leading conservative groups, the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks, demanded that McConnell add the Lee-Cruz amendment to the bill in the face of opposition from much of the Senate GOP caucus. Short of that, conservatives want the GOP to essentially hit reset.
“We’ve got to do something to re-inject free market forces into this environment,” Lee said on “Face the Nation” earlier this week. “If politically, for some reason we can’t get that done, what we ought to do … is to push full repeal and then embark on an iterative step-by-step process.”
Other Republicans are arguing against such an alteration. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) soothed a constituent outside an event in Tennessee on Thursday by reassuring her that “there’s no attempt whatsoever to do away with allowing people, causing people to have insurance that have pre-existing conditions.”
“There’s also an attempt right now to change the subsidy levels so that people who have lower income have the ability to purchase” insurance, Corker said, according to video captured by the Chattanooga Times Free-Press. “Stay tuned.”
Work is also beginning on lifting the debt limit, according to the administration and Hill Republicans. That vote may be held immediately before the long August recess if health care has been dealt with by the end of the month, though it could slip to September if the Treasury Department offers reassurances to Hill leaders that such a timeline would work.
The health care debate has now sapped more than two months of the Senate’s attention. A group of 10 Senate Republicans is now calling on McConnell to consider abbreviating or canceling the August recess if meaningful progress has not been made on health care, spending bills, the debt ceiling and tax reform.
Seung Min Kim contributed from Palco, Kan.