Mitch McConnell was keenly aware of political pressure his colleagues are facing
That's part of why the Senate Majority Leader wanted a vote before recess
There was a reason Mitch McConnell badly wanted a vote on the Senate health care bill before July 4.
Senate Republicans are back in their home states for a weeklong break, and already, some of them have gotten an earful on the controversial GOP legislation to dismantle Obamacare. The message from their home-state constituents: Don’t you dare vote for that bill.
That’s not great news for Senate Majority Leader McConnell, who was forced to postpone a vote last week and is hoping to reschedule it for soon after lawmakers return to Washington next week.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins told reporters at a July 4 parade in Eastport that many Maine residents that she has spoken with while in her home state support her decision to oppose the legislation.
“What I’ve been hearing the entire recess is people telling me to be strong, that they have a lot of concerns about the health care bill in the Senate, they want me to keep working on it, but they don’t want me to support it in its current form,” said Collins, a moderate.
Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota said at a roundtable in Grand Forks this week that he “doesn’t support the bill as it stands,” according to the Bismarck Tribune, becoming the tenth Republican senator to come out against the proposal in its current form.
Similar to when House Republicans were considering their own Obamacare repeal bill earlier this year, protesters across the country are again eager to confront their senators.
Demonstrators gathered outside of Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey’s office Tuesday, lying on the sidewalk holding signs in the shape of tombstones (Toomey is leaning toward supporting the bill). Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a conservative Republican who is currently a “no” on the health care bill because he doesn’t believe it goes far enough in gutting Obamacare, faced protesters at a parade in McAllen.
“There is a small group of people on the left who, right now, are very angry,” Cruz told CNN affiliate KVEO. “We can engage in cordial and civil debate – that’s how democracy works and that’s how it’s meant to work.”
McConnell was keenly aware of the political pressure that his colleagues would face on the health care bill when they went home. It was one of the key reasons he had worked furiously to try to have a vote before members left town.
But a flurry of meetings and closed-door negotiations still left the majority leader far short of the minimum 50 “yes” votes he needs to get the bill through the upper chamber. And within hours of his announcement to postpone the vote last week, three more members came out as “no” votes, bringing up the tally of Republicans publicly against the legislation to nine.
With 52 Republicans in the Senate, that’s not a small number of senators McConnell has to move from the “no” column to the “yes” column. But the public opposition this week could make it that much more difficult for senators who are already against the bill – and others who are on the fence – to get to a “yes.”
Over the July 4 recess, Senate leadership is continuing to engage rank-and-file members on potential changes to the health care bill, according to a GOP leadership aide. Leadership has also been in discussions with the Congressional Budget Office, so that the agency can swiftly release a new score of the revised Senate bill.
The initial CBO analysis of the Senate health care bill was hardly reassuring to senators. It showed that 22 million more people would be uninsured by 2026 than under the Affordable Care Act – a number that critics, including Democrats, have pounced on.
Making health care an impossibly difficult task to move through the Senate for McConnell is the fact that the concerns within his conference are so wide-ranging.
Those in the conservative wing of the conference – Sens. Cruz, Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin – say the Senate legislation doesn’t go far enough in rolling back Obamacare regulations.
Meanwhile, one of the most serious hang-ups for several Republicans including Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Rob Portman of Ohio is the proposed cuts to Medicaid. The Senate bill proposes tying the growth rate for Medicaid funding to standard inflation instead of the more generous medical inflation. These senators are requesting that the funding stick with medical inflation.
Capito and Portman also have deep reservations about whether their states would retain enough opioid addiction treatment funding, and have requested $45 billion be included in the Senate bill.
But not every Republican senator is hearing from constituents opposed to the Senate health care bill.
At a July 4 parade in Ely, Nevada, a man called out to Heller, an opponent of the bill and one of the most vulnerable senators up for reelection next year, to “vote yes on that health bill” as the senator rode by on a horse.