GOP senator: We don’t have ‘luxury’ of knowing what health care plan we’ll move on

Liz Goodwin
Senior National Affairs Reporter

WASHINGTON — Republicans have long criticized then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi for saying of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”

Yet that’s not a far cry from the argument coming from Senate Republican leaders Thursday, who are pushing their rank and file to vote to begin debating a health care bill next week even though no one knows what’s in that bill.

“It’s a luxury we don’t have,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the No. 2 in Senate leadership, when asked about his members who want to know what plan they’re voting on before Tuesday.

Cornyn explained that Republicans should vote to begin to debate the mystery health care bill, which can be amended by anyone on the Senate floor. If senators decide they don’t like the final product, they can simply vote against its final passage.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnnell speak to reporters after meeting with the president to discuss health care on July 19. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Currently, options include a clean repeal of Obamacare on a two-year delay or a reworked repeal-and-replace plan. Both bills without major changes would result in tens of millions fewer Americans having health insurance than under current law, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Republican leaders skipped the open committee process and crafted their bills entirely behind closed doors, with no Democratic input.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., another member of the leadership team, said the plan was to vote to proceed on the House’s health care bill, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., then offering an amendment to change it to a repeal-only measure or a repeal-and-replace plan.

Related slideshow: Protesters across the country oppose GOP’s health care plan >>>

“Who knows?” he told a gaggle of reporters about which would happen, according to CBS News. Earlier, he told reporters he believed they would be voting on a repeal-only amendment.

Cornyn’s rank and file sound less than enthused by that strategy, and some GOP senators said they believe they will know the details of the plan before being asked to vote to debate it.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who’s opposed earlier versions of the repeal-and-replace bill for its negative effect on his state’s Medicaid population, said he expected to hear the details about exactly what he’s voting on sometime over the weekend.

“I can’t make any decisions at this point until I know what the text of the bill is going to be,” Heller said Thursday of his vote.

Protesters walk out of the office of Sen. Dean Heller on July 17. The protesters were asking the senator to vote no on the Better Care Reconciliation Act. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

And Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, another skeptic of the replace plan, said Wednesday that she can’t decide on the motion to proceed until she knows what they are debating.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., similarly said he believed they would know the plan before the motion to proceed, but he wasn’t sure when. “It won’t be the morning-of kind of thing,” he said. “It will be sometime in advance.”

McConnell declared the repeal-and-replace bill dead for now earlier this week, and told his conference that he expected them all to vote Tuesday on a measure to repeal Obamacare altogether on a two-year delay, during which time an alternative would hypothetically be put in place.

The prospect of being forced to take a vote on a politically risky repeal-only measure appeared to revive talks of a repeal-and-replace bill, with Republican senators huddling late Wednesday night again trying to hash out a deal. During that meeting, senators found out that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., had been diagnosed with brain cancer and would likely be away from the Capitol for some weeks.

That means all but two Republican senators would have to vote to proceed on health care Tuesday for any measure to pass. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has already said she won’t vote to proceed and wants to start over on designing a health care plan with Democratic input.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is surrounded by reporters as she walks toward the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 18, 2017. (Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Senate leadership is still trying to win over holdouts on a replacement plan. Senate moderates defected from it because of its Medicaid cuts, and conservatives because it didn’t repeal enough of Obamacare. Murkowski told reporters Thursday afternoon that she was meeting later in the day with Medicaid chief Seema Verma to go over how the bill would affect Alaska. Cassidy said $200 billion more has been allocated to a state stabilization fund, which would appeal to senators in Medicaid-expansion states.

And some senators sounded positive after their talks Wednesday night.

“After the meeting last night, it did start to coalesce and make some more sense,” Heller said.

But the essential divisions between moderates and conservatives remain, with no breakthroughs yet, as the clock ticks down to Tuesday’s mystery vote.

(Cover tile photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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