Republicans want to vote on the bill before the July 4 recess
They have been negotiating the bill in secret
The CBO has yet to review the final legislation
Senate Republicans are pushing full steam ahead toward a vote by the end of next week on the health care bill that nobody has seen.
In a political exercise that is coming down to the wire, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Tuesday that a “discussion draft” of the bill that would repeal and replace Obamacare – which has so far been kept closely under wraps – will be released this Thursday.
The aim is to send final legislation to the Congressional Budget Office this week so that the CBO can review the bill and issue a report early next week before a vote that would likely happen next Thursday, June 29.
The abbreviated schedule is a dramatic bet that Republicans can secure the 51 votes they need to pass a bill that could hurt them politically with no guarantee it will ever become law. A failure would also be another setback for President Donald Trump, who has had few legislative wins to show in his first five months in office.
The White House has been letting McConnell drive the process in the Senate, although Trump, just weeks after celebrating the House passage of its Obamacare repeal bill in an impromptu Rose Garden ceremony, recently lamented that that very bill was “mean,” and that Senate Republicans should put forward a more “generous” proposal.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer reiterated that sentiment on Tuesday, saying Trump wants a bill “that has heart in it.”
Spicer said he did not know whether Trump had seen a draft of the Senate health care bill, and also declined to comment on the timing of a vote.
The Senate bill has been worked on behind closed doors, as Republican leaders try to craft a measure that will appeal to both conservatives and moderates, knowing they can only lose two senators in order for it to pass.
McConnell said there would be ample time to read the bill, but didn’t commit to a specific number of days. “Oh they’ll have plenty of time,” he said. “This will be about as transparent as it can be.”
But the fact that Senate Republicans have yet to see text the week before leaders hope to have a vote has become a source of tension for Republicans and Democrats. Republicans senators have openly grumbled about the lack of information that has come from leaders, while Democrats are crying foul and labeling the Senate proposal a “secretive” bill.
During negotiations over the House bill earlier this year, White House officials consistently predicted when Republicans would vote. For the Senate, Spicer said that McConnell would “determine the Senate schedule that he sees fit.”
He blamed Democrats for not being part of the process.
“Let’s not mistake ourselves with how they approached this thing,” Spicer said. “Their leader, Sen. (Chuck) Schumer (D-New York) made it very clear that they didn’t want to be part of this process. They were happy with Obamacare. We believe Obamacare’s failing.”
Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin rejected Spicer’s theory.
“Certainly his premise is that Democrats don’t want to have anything to do with repealing the Affordable Care Act, and it’s because what they’re doing is a bunch of partisan nonsense to notch up a political and partisan victory,” the Wisconsin senator told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin on “Newsroom.”
Democrats have been protesting the GOP bill by trying to slow down Senate action, including limiting committee hearings. Several hearings set for Tuesday afternoon were canceled, including on pandemics and restoring watersheds.
But they can’t hold off Republicans forever if McConnell wants to go forward.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, asked if there will be a vote next week said, “I believe the majority leader when he says there’s going to be one.”
Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch said Republicans are close, but not quite ready, to send a bill to the CBO.
“We’ve been working on it for a long time. We’re just not there yet,” the Utah Republican said, adding he is confident the Senate could vote next week.
But Hatch insisted the GOP senators are in the loop. Under the Senate rules, Republicans need only 51 votes to pass the bill, and don’t need to face a Democratic filibuster – and a 60-vote threshold – that would kill it.
“We’ve been chanting about the various aspects of the legislation. We’re not leaving anybody out in the cold,” Hatch said. “It’s a tough job to get these things done and sometimes they’re very complex and very lengthy.”