As the Obamacare repeal bill became the Senate’s problem on Thursday afternoon, senators offered wildly varying reviews on its chances of passage — suggesting the fate of the American Health Care Act is at the moment shaky at best.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) says Senate Republicans should be able to approve the House health care bill in “three to four weeks.” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) says the Senate needs to “take our time.” And when it comes to taking up the hot potato Speaker Paul Ryan threw his way, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) isn’t disclosing much.
“We’ll keep you posted,” McConnell said on his way out of the Capitol on Thursday.
Republicans passed their health care bill through the House on Thursday afternoon without cost or coverage estimates from the Congressional Budget Office — a leap into the legislative dark that many experts view as reckless and irresponsible. They suddenly corralled the votes after making legislative changes this week, and then rammed through the bill with a vote on Thursday.
Republicans in the Senate have a range of views, but it’s far less likely they’ll move as quickly as Ryan did. Republicans can only afford to lose two votes to pass Ryan’s bill through reconciliation. So far, at least four crucial swing votes are already speaking out against the House bill.
Some Senate Republicans want to move swiftly
As Vox’s Dylan Scott argued, Republicans face huge uphill obstacles to getting the bill through the Senate because of their members’ substantive objections to its policies.
There are the deeply divisive cuts to Medicaid, which many Republican senators have said will cost the bill their votes. There are the fantastically unpopular provisions around preexisting conditions. There are the most libertarian senators, Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul (R-KY), who think the bill is still not conservative enough. And then there’s the fact that many Senate Republicans have their own ideas for the best way to fix Obamacare.
“I expect the Senate to do something different. I don’t expect we’ll vote on the House bill as it is,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) told Vox’s Sarah Kliff recently. “I expect we will put forward our alternative.”
Still, some Republicans signaled a willingness to pick up where Ryan left off and move forward as quickly as possible.
“I think it should go straight to the floor,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) told reporters.
Added Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) in a statement: “Today House Republicans successfully took a major step towards freeing American families from Obamacare by advancing a bill that dismantles the law’s harmful taxes and mandates.”
Similarly, Burr said he thought the Senate should bypass the committee process altogether and head straight to the floor in about one month. “The committee process has become too politicized,” he said.
A bad CBO score could slow down Republicans’ push — or kill it altogether
But for now, at least, Senate Republicans don’t appear to have the votes to pass the health care bill. They’re already facing a raft of defections, making it seem likely that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was right to predict on Thursday that the bill would die in the Senate.
As Vox’s Matthew Yglesias pointed out, many Senate Republicans represent states that are helped by the Affordable Care Act — by contrast, only about a quarter of the 100 congressional districts helped most by Obamacare were represented by Republicans. That means there’s a steeper climb for many Republicans in the Senate.
One problem for McConnell is Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, a swing-state Republicans who immediately sent out a statement saying he could not support the bill “in its current form.”
Similarly, Collins — another likely swing vote — voiced serious concerns about the House bill to reporters on Thursday.
“I think we need to do the job right, and we certainly need a CBO analysis,” she said on Thursday afternoon. “Part of the problem is we don’t have a CBO analysis of the impact of the bill, so I don’t know what it is for coverage and cost sharing and the individual insurance markets. There are so many unanswered questions.”
A third swing vote on Obamacare repeal, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), has also already lined up to oppose it. “The current House bill still does not address the concerns Senator Capito has voiced," a spokesperson told Yahoo News’s Liz Goodwin.
Part of the reason Republicans in the House could move with such speed was that they did not wait for an estimate from the Congressional Budget Office. An estimate of an initial version of their bill in March found it would cost 24 million people their health care. But House Republicans have since amended the bill, and in the final dash to approve it, they argued that its impacts are unknown since the CBO was still working on revising its estimates.
Republicans in the Senate won’t be able to replicate that playbook. For one, the CBO is expected to come out with its analysis of Ryan’s bill as early as next week, according to the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent. So even if Republican senators did want to pass the bill without a raft of ugly headlines detailing CBO’s assessment of its impact, they almost certainly wouldn’t have the time to do so.
But the GOP’s other problem is that powerful Senate Republicans say they don’t want to advance Obamacare repeal without a CBO score — and that a terrible score will be crucial in deciding if they support the bill.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), for instance, said in a statement that Republicans should look with "suspicion" at how quickly the House health care process had unfolded.
And Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), another crucial swing vote, said there wouldn’t be a Senate vote on the bill until the CBO score is released. Pressed on whether he would vote for the bill based on what he expected the score to show, he demurred.
“We’ll wait for the CBO score,” he said.