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Senate Republicans don’t have the votes on health care. Can they get them? Vox discusses.

“This actually makes me think the bill is more likely to pass.”

US Capitol Bill Clark / Getty Images

We're now two days into Senate Health Care Blitz Week, and the plot has taken a turn for the worse against the bill. Vox's Dylan Scott, Sarah Kliff, and Jim Tankersley are reporting out the politics — and pooling their knowledge to help game out where this is all headed. They chatted over Slack at noon on Tuesday. Here's a transcript:


Jim Tankersley

The [Congressional Budget Office] score has dropped, and it's not pretty for Republicans. At least four GOP senators are currently “no” votes on the motion to proceed to the bill. The president is personally lobbying Rand Paul. The Senate majority leader is lobbying Ted Cruz. The vice president is apparently working the phones. Dylan, you wrote yesterday that the votes are coming up short — will that still be true after this pressure campaign?

Dylan Scott

The topline from the CBO was bad news — 22 million fewer Americans having insurance — but there was a silver lining for McConnell. For reasons I won’t go into, CBO showed that he has about $200 billion to play with and still meet the savings targets he must under the procedural shortcut Republicans are using to pass the bill without any Democrats.

$200 billion is a lot of money! Especially when crucial swing votes like Rob Portman and Shelley Moore Capito have asked for nearly $50 billion in opioids funding and the bill currently contains only $2 billion.

Money might not solve all problems, especially for conservatives who want to undo more of Obamacare’s insurance regulations. But that is a lot of dough for McConnell to throw around as he ramps up the pressure.

Sarah Kliff

Yeah, I think the big issue here is the problems that money can’t solve, and under the reconciliation rules the Senate is living in, those problems are regulations. The big thing the Lee/Cruz/Paul bloc wants is to dismantle key Obamacare regulations, and that stuff is thought to be somewhat untouchable in a budget process that limits what type of legislation can be made.

That being said, this actually makes me think the bill is more likely to pass, because it’s really hard for me to imagine a world where the guys who stop Obamacare repeal are Ted Cruz and Mike Lee.

Jim Tankersley

Breaking news: Mike Lee is now motion-to-proceed holdout No. 5!

Sarah Kliff

:-O

Dylan Scott

It’s not getting any easier for Mitch. I’m still waiting to hear from Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Sarah Kliff

Also in the mix now: We have the Chamber of Commerce key-voting the Senate health care bill vote, which I think creates a push from a powerful conservative group that, as you mentioned yesterday, Jim, they’re not really getting from the Koch brothers.

Jim Tankersley

Right. The chamber has been supportive from the start — really emphasizing the tax cut angle of the bill.

But guys: Even with $200 billion, where's the deal here?

Is there one to be made? Or is this partisan steamroll or nothing?

Sarah Kliff

I’m expecting a classic cocktail of opioid funding and partisan steamrolling.

Dylan Scott

Like Sarah said, are Mike Lee and Ted Cruz — guys who built their careers on opposing Obamacare — gonna miss their chance?

Then on the moderate side, that is where money can help a lot.

The odds are getting longer, but I can’t declare this thing dead yet.

As Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal told a few reporters a minute ago: “Our mantra is: Do not underestimate Mitch McConnell.”

Jim Tankersley

How much of a hurdle is the procedural motion? The deals, I had been led to believe, were going to be cut in the floor amendments — which we might not even get to.

Dylan Scott

That’s a great question. Theoretically, it’s huge. McConnell can’t start debate on the bill without getting 50 votes on the motion to proceed.

I think the rationale for our holdouts — Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Dean Heller, Susan Collins, etc. — is they want the bill changed before the debate starts.

They don’t want to rely on the amendment process, where crazy things can happen.

Sarah Kliff

I also think it’s an easier vote to take to stop something wonky called the motion to proceed, versus be stuck in the weird place of voting against the Obamacare repeal vote. So I think that’s one reason you’re seeing a lot of the defections center on that part of the process.

Dylan Scott

Definitely. As some Republican lobbyists told me a month ago, if the bill goes down, it’ll go down on the motion to proceed. Not a final vote for passage.

Sarah Kliff

So is there a drop-dead deadline for getting to a Thursday vote, Dylan? Is there a point tomorrow [when] we’d know it’s not coming together?

Dylan Scott

So McConnell can play with the timeline a little bit, but there are supposed to be 20 hours of floor debate on the bill, once we get past the motion to proceed.

So [does calculations] I think this process needs to start tomorrow or else it’ll at least push into Friday, if not later.

This will be a big test for how willing McConnell really is, as many have speculated, to let Obamacare repeal fail.

Unless he has a breakthrough soon.

Sarah Kliff

So this makes me really skeptical of a vote this week. But I still stuck with what I said yesterday: I think a vote is still coming at some point. Remember when Paul Ryan had that press conference and declared Obamacare the law of the land, said they were moving on? A few weeks later, they were right back at it! I don’t buy, right now, the idea that if this fails, the Senate is ready to move on to tax reform. Obamacare repeal has been such a key issue for the party, I think we underestimate how hard it is for legislators to quit it.

Jim Tankersley

I agree with this — it's always been possible for Republicans to pull this off in July.

But the longer it takes, the antsier everyone gets about tax reform.

Dylan Scott

I do think there’s a drop-dead date for the whole repeal enterprise, and it’s coming soon. But I agree with you guys that it’s probably not this week.

Sarah Kliff

Then we’re going to have to have our debate we had a few months ago: What do we call this thing? Zombie Obamacare? Undead Obamacare? Truly, the important debates that matter the most.

Jim Tankersley

Our mantra is: Do not underestimate Vampire Legislation.

Dylan Scott

Never.

Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican, just said he expects this key procedural vote to be held tomorrow. We’ll find out where things stand soon!

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