WASHINGTON – Republican senators complained about their party’s secretive health care bill Wednesday, a day before GOP leaders planned to finally release their plan for erasing much of President Barack Obama’s health care law.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was expected to push for a vote next week on the legislation, which would eliminate much of Obama’s 2010 overhaul and leave government with a diminished role in providing coverage and helping people afford it.
“We believe we can do better than the Obamacare status quo, and we fully intend to do so,” said McConnell, Republican from Kentucky.
Facing unanimous Democratic opposition, Republicans can only afford defections from two of their 52 senators to push the measure through the Senate. Enough of them have voiced concerns to leave the bill’s fate uncertain.
Among the critics has been Sen. Ron Johnson, Republican from Wisconsin, who expressed doubts that there’d be enough time to study the bill’s impacts in time for a vote late next week.
“I’ve made leadership well aware of the fact that I need information to make the final decision. And if I don’t have the information to justify a yes vote, I won’t be voting yes,” he told reporters.
Moderate Sen. Susan Collins, Republican from Maine, said she had “no idea” if she’d back the legislation until she sees the language. She said an analysis of the bill by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), expected Monday, would be “extremely important to me because I want to know the impact on coverage and on cost.”
The budget office concluded that the House-approved version of the bill would cost 23 million U.S. citizens health coverage by 2026.
On Tuesday, Sen. Ted Cruz, Republican from Texas, said that there’s “more work to do” before the bill adequately cuts premiums.
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A second conservative, Mike Lee, Republican from Utah, complained about not seeing the legislation despite being on the working group of senators assigned to craft it and said lawmakers should have seen the measure “weeks ago” if they’re to vote next week. And another conservative, Sen. Rand Paul, Republican from Kentucky, said it would be “a non-starter” if the developing bill’s subsidies are as large as Obama’s.
Alaska moderate Lisa Murkowski said she didn’t know how she’d vote, adding, “I have no idea what the deal is.” She has opposed past conservative efforts to include language barring federal payments to Planned Parenthood, a group many Republicans abhor because it provides abortions.
McConnell’s ability to line up votes is considered masterful, and he’s eager to pass legislation fulfilling a keystone campaign promise of President Donald Trump and countless GOP congressional candidates. But as of now, victory is not guaranteed and he stopped short of definitely scheduling the vote for next week.
“It’s apparently being written by a small handful of staffers for members of the Republican leadership,” said Lee of the bill, using a Facebook video for an unusually public swipe at GOP leaders.
Democrats have also lambasted McConnell for writing the sweeping legislation in closed-door meetings. They unanimously oppose the GOP bill but lack the votes to defeat it. They fear McConnell will jam the legislation through the Senate with little debate, limiting their chance to scrutinize the bill and whip up opposition against it.
Aides and lobbyists said they expected the GOP bill to provide health care tax credits linked to people’s incomes, not their ages like the House-passed measure, and impose spending limits on the growth of the federal-state Medicaid program for the poor that would tighten further by the mid-2020s. Another possibility was letting states drop some coverage requirements that Obama’s law imposes on insurers, they said.
They said unresolved questions included how to make sure the subsidies can’t be used for policies that provide abortions and how fast they can repeal tax boosts Obama levied on high earners and medical companies to finance his statute’s expanded coverage.
The No. 3 Senate GOP leader, John Thune of South Dakota, said Republicans were moving toward phasing out Obama’s enlargement of Medicaid to additional low-income people over five or six years. That might satisfy Republican senators from states that expanded their programs, but conservatives have wanted to halt the extra expenditures quickly.