Senate Republicans say they’re not sure they can pass an Obamacare repeal bill this year, they have yet to decide what exactly will go into their legislation, and some have even suggested that the Senate should vote on a health care bill as quickly as possible – even if it fails.
And now, Democrats are taunting them from across the political aisle: Come work with us.
One month after House Republicans narrowly passed a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, GOP lawmakers in the Senate are confronting similar roadblocks that made health care reform such a difficult political task in the lower chamber. With the summer recess fast approaching, some Senate Republicans are sounding increasingly skeptical that they can deliver on their years-long campaign promise to overhaul Obamacare this year.
That fresh uncertainty is energizing Democrats.
Determined to protect former President Barack Obama’s landmark heath care law, Democrats are seizing the moment to repeatedly call on Republicans to abandon their repeal efforts – and team up with Democrats on improving the Affordable Care Act instead. It’s a rallying cry Democrats have been using for years, but one that has now gained renewed traction as Republicans struggle to put forth a repeal bill.
“If the Republicans will set aside this partisan, gun-at-your-head kind of approach, we stand ready, if they’re willing to do that, to work cooperatively with them,” Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden said Tuesday. “This was their choice. Their choice was to do it this way – hardball, (budget) reconciliation, partisan-only, put a gun to everybody’s head.”
Republicans have been using the so-called budget reconciliation process to try to gut Obamacare. It allows the House and the Senate to pass a bill with just a simple majority of votes. That means that in the Senate, Republicans could pass the legislation with just 51 Republican “yes” votes.
Democrats have pointed to that strategy as irrefutable proof that Republicans have no interest in reaching across the aisle on health care. But as Republicans cast doubt on their prospects of passing a wholesale repeal bill this year, Democrats are forcefully making the case there are potential areas of bipartisan cooperation.
A Democratic Senate leadership aide told CNN on Tuesday that Senate Democrats see a growing recognition among some of their GOP colleagues that a partisan health care bill may not be able to produce enough Republican votes for passage.
“They need to be willing to completely drop repeal,” the leadership aide said, describing the message from Democrats and Republicans as: “We’re ready to sit down and work with you as soon as you guys tell us you’re off repeal. We’ll get to work on a deal.”
Asked how realistic it is to expect Republicans to work with Democrats on health care, the aide simply said: “It becomes more realistic the more Republicans continue to flail.”
Some centrist Republicans, like Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, have explicitly said that they would like the GOP to pursue a comprehensive and bipartisan health care bill. Collins, as well as Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, are among the handful of Republicans who have informally reached out to Democrats in recent weeks to discuss health care.
Democrats say bills aimed at stabilizing the private insurance market and bringing down the cost of medicine are just two examples of areas where Republicans may get Democratic cooperation.
But even as they insist that they’re willing to work with Republicans if they abandon their repeal efforts, Senate Democrats also say that they can’t underestimate the political will among Republicans to continue pushing for Obamacare repeal.
“No matter what Republicans claim, they’re working as hard as they can to jam their version of Trumpcare through the Senate to deliver a political win for President Trump and massive tax breaks for those at the top,” Democratic Sen. Patty Murray said. “And the minute they get 50 votes, this bill will be on the floor.”
CNN’s Ted Barrett contributed to this report.