After recess, Republican senators didn't appear any closer to coming together on policy
Leadership is expected to huddle with members Thursday morning
"Not everybody's having a good time," one GOP senator said
Mere hours before the unveiling of a new bill to overhaul the health care system, Republican senators are still unsure which direction to go.
The fate of the Senate legislation to overhaul Obamacare hung in the balance Wednesday: Intra-party divisions remained, policy questions were outstanding and GOP senators had just days left to find a solution before Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was expected to bring a bill to the floor for a first procedural vote next week.
“Not everybody’s having a good time,” Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker said lightheartedly to reporters, when asked about the mood among his colleagues.
South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott insisted progress was being made, but conceded “it’s a painful process right now.”
“I would be surprised” if the bill passed the Senate next week, said Arizona Sen. John McCain.
After a week-long recess, members didn’t appear to be any closer to coming together on policy – only united in waiting for what McConnell does next. Leadership is expected to huddle with members Thursday at 11:30 a.m. ET to discuss the second version of a bill that was introduced last month and has so far failed to garner enough Republican support.
But as of Wednesday afternoon, senators said they were not clear on what the revised health care proposal would look like. Coming out of a lunch meeting, members said there were no detailed discussions about the new legislation.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who has expressed serious reservations about the original bill, said health care was only discussed at a “30,000-foot level” during the luncheon.
“I don’t know what it looks like. Do you? Because we were not given anything and because we were addressed at a 30,000-foot level, I’m going to choose to not comment on what may show up tomorrow,” said the Alaska Republican, a key moderate vote.
One major question heading into Thursday is whether an amendment from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz will be included. The provision, which would allow insurance companies to offer plans that are unregulated under Obamacare, will be key to whether Cruz and other conservatives, including Sen. Mike Lee, get behind the legislation.
Cruz told reporters that he did not know whether the bill would include his amendment, and that if it is not, he would vote against the motion to proceed on the bill.
“It needs to be in the underlying text,” he said.
The bill would be doomed, Cruz warned, if his amendment is left out.
“The bill will not have the votes to go forward if there are not meaningful protections for consumer freedom that significantly lower premiums,” he said.
But GOP leaders are keenly aware that if they add Cruz’s language it could drive away other Republicans, particularly moderates who want to maintain Obamacare’s coverage requirements.
Corker said he still believed two versions of the bill would be released Thursday. “The reason it’s being done that way is so (the Congressional Budget Office) can score both versions,” he said – one with the Cruz amendment and one without.
What will be new?
Members are expecting to see several tweaks to the first draft of the health care bill from last month. Republicans will see more money for opioid addiction treatment to the tune of $45 billion as well as more flexibility in how patients can use their health savings account money.
The original bill repealed two taxes for the wealthy but those are expected to be put back into the bill so that Republicans have more money to help offset the costs of health care for low-income individuals.
McConnell is planning to hold a vote on a “motion to proceed” on the health care bill next week – a procedural step that, if passed, would begin debate on the legislation. The Majority Leader needs 51 “yes” votes but as of Wednesday, it was not clear whether he would be able to clear the first hurdle.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said he would vote against the motion to proceed, saying bluntly: “The new bill is the same as the old bill – except for worse.”
Other key senators include Shelley Moore Capito or West Virginia, Jeff Flake of Arizona and John Hoeven of North Dakota said they were still undecided.