Senate prepares to vote on 'skinny repeal' of Obamacare

Liz Goodwin
Senior National Affairs Reporter
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell leaves the floor during votes concerning the Republican version of the healthcare bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on July 27, 2017. (Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., at long last introduced the text of his “skinny repeal” health care plan for a midnight vote.

The bill dramatically scales back the conference’s initial ambitions to repeal and replace Obamacare, and Republican senators who plan to vote for it openly admit they do not want it to become law because it would be a “disaster” for individual insurance markets.

But Senate Republican leadership are pitching the legislation as a “first step” that will eventually lead to a better plan in a House-Senate conference committee.

The replace plan, called the Health Care Freedom Act, repeals the individual mandate altogether and the employer mandate for seven years. It also increases the amount of money people can contribute to tax-free health savings accounts and bans Medicaid reimbursements for Planned Parenthood for one year. The plan also loosens up the federal government’s oversight of what kind of insurance plans states can sell on the insurance exchanges. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill would result in 15 million fewer people having insurance than under current law, most from people defecting from the insurance exchanges.

The Senate is planning to take the first vote on the legislation at around midnight. After that, Democrats and Republicans may offer amendments for as long as they want. When Democrats are tired of attempting to amend the legislation, McConnell may offer up the original legislation for a final vote, likely in the wee hours of Friday morning.

Democrats took to the Senate floor to protest the legislation. “No one can justify the process,” Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. said of the Republicans’ closed-door negotiations. “A process that bends our traditions and breaks our values.” He pointed out that the Senate would have to vote on legislation members have only seen for a few minutes.

It’s unclear if McConnell has enough votes to pass the “skinny repeal” bill. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; Susan Collins, R-Maine; Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V.; and John McCain, R-Ariz., have not said where they stand.

Vice President Mike Pence arrived to the Capitol shortly before midnight, suggesting he would be on hand to break a tie.

One of the major concerns facing some Senate Republicans was that they wanted a “guarantee” from House Speaker Paul Ryan that he would not pass their bill into law, instead sending it to a House-Senate conference to fix its many issues.

“The ‘skinny’ bill as policy is a disaster. The ‘skinny’ bill as a replacement for Obamacare is a fraud,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters Thursday afternoon. He said it would be “the dumbest thing in history” for Republicans to pass it into law and then own the price increases in Obamacare insurance exchanges from then on. (Insurance experts believe younger, healthier people will leave the exchanges after the mandate is repealed, driving up prices for others.)

But Ryan reassured Graham and other wary senators in a conference call late Thursday night that he would send the “skinny repeal” to a House-Senate conference.

“I just wanted to hear it right from Paul; we all [did],” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told reporters. It’s unclear if Ryan promised that the House would not pass the legislation if the conference failed, however.

Senate Republicans have said their bill is just a “vehicle,” and its myriad issues must be fixed later.

“It’s a means to an end to keep this conversation going, engage the House and get this to conference,” said Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., Thursday. “The ‘skinny’ bill in my opinion is almost like a motion to proceed, it’s a vehicle to keep it going forward.”

In a conference committee, provisions would be added to make the “skinny repeal” a fleshed-out repeal-and-replace bill, they say. The Senate is using a special budget reconciliation process that requires only 51 votes to pass and constrains what can be included in the legislation.

—Yahoo News reporter Andrew Bahl contributed to this report.

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