Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) sees a lot to like in the plan to repeal and replace Obamacare that is now live in the House. He’s glad to see it would repeal what he calls Obamacare’s “dictatorial provisions” — the individual mandate. And he likes that it relies on tax credits, rather than government subsidies, to help people buy insurance.
But the day after GOP leaders introduced the House bill, Inhofe wasn’t prepared to say he’d vote for it.
His qualified praise on Tuesday was shared by many Republican senators — a reaction that fits the traditionally methodical pace at which senators shape legislation, but not the breakneck schedule that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seems to favor in order to pass the bill in April.
Reporters peppered Republican senators with questions about the new bill on Tuesday. The senators, in response, offered little indication that they are set to endorse the legislation at what would be lightning speed, in order to match the ambitions McConnell spelled out later in the day: to send the bill to President Trump before next month’s congressional recess.
Many senators said they still had not read the bill, which was posted online on Monday evening — even as some of them, such as John Barrasso (R-WY), praised its relative brevity, at 183 pages.
“I’m a nerd; I read,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) when asked if he likes what he’s seen from Ryan’s bill. “And I haven’t read it yet.” Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and John McCain (R-AZ) said the same.
To the extent that they praised the bill, most senators were restrained. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said he was pretty confident the bill will do fine in the Senate — so long as Trump offered his “full support” of it. There were signs of that support on Tuesday, including White House press secretary Sean Spicer and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price praising the bill in the daily briefing. Vice President Mike Pence talked it up in a press conference with Senate leaders.
“I think they are off to a very good start, and since the president has been so unequivocal in his support, that’s a big help,” Alexander said. “When something comes to the Senate from the House with the full support of the president, it would be hard for it not to pass the Senate.”
Price called the bill a work in progress on Tuesday, suggesting the administration is not wedded to it in its exact current form. Inhofe said he expected the bill would change dramatically before it reached the Senate floor, which is why he doesn’t care that House Republicans didn’t wait for projections from the Congressional Budget Office before proceeding with the bill.
“I think they need to keep moving. We have so many things happening right now that it takes them a while to get it done,” Inhofe said. “Why go through all anguish on the scoring on something that’s not going to be the bill?”
Because Republicans hold a slim margin in the Senate and are not expected to win Democratic votes for the bill, a few GOP defections could sink the legislation. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Mike Lee (R-UT) have already threatened to oppose the bill as being insufficiently conservative — and they did not send encouraging signs to the House on Tuesday.
“This is not the Obamacare repeal bill we’ve been waiting for,” Lee said in a statement. “It is a missed opportunity and a step in the wrong direction.”
Other senators have suggested they would like to tweak the bill’s treatment of Medicaid, which expanded under Obamacare to cover millions more Americans. McCain, for example, said on Tuesday he wants to see the purview of Medicaid provisions in the bill to be given to the states.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) said the warring points of view are making him “anxious.”
“It’s early to determine how much flexibility there is and early for me to determine how much flexibility there needs to be,” he said. “I'm going to be very anxious to see how we’ll gets to 51 votes and how the House gets to 218.”