The tiled, chandelier-lit hallway in front of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office was the most closely watched area in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.
As GOP Senate leadership seeks to tweak its Obamacare repeal legislation after a lack of support for the bill thwarted this week’s plans for a vote, a parade of senators who have been the most concerned about the current version of the legislation trickled in and out of McConnell’s office outside the Senate chamber, where they had a change to air their grievances.
It’s unclear how much reconstructive work leadership intends to do on the health care bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, or if they hope to win over the wobbly votes with a series of side deals, promises down the road or new information to put better spin on the bill’s ugly CBO score.
Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both Republicans, were spotted heading into office ahead of Senate GOP’s conference wide-lunch.
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma was also in the meeting with the Alaskan senators. Sullivan said she was showing them “broad base numbers.”
“From my perspective getting more numbers, from Seema Verma and others, is a really important part of what we are trying to do to work through this,” he said.
Murkowski has been one of the closest votes to watch throughout the Obamacare repeal process. She opposes defunding Planned Parenthood, as the current version of the legislation does. The Senate bill’s phase-out of Alaska’s Medicaid expansion and reduction of Obamacare’s tax credits also hit her state particularly hard.
Sullivan has been less vocal in his concerns about the direction the Senate was heading with its bill. He has stressed, however, his focus on the unique challenges facing Alaska, a far-flung, sparsely populated state with the highest health care costs in the country.
As the GOP Senate lunch was wrapping up, Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) marched in to McConnell’s. He has taken one of the most dramatic stands in opposition to the bill, announcing last week that it would be “very difficult” for Senate leaders to get his support.
Then came Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), who has vowed that simply throwing more money at her areas of concern won’t be enough to win her over. Heading into McConnell’s office, she said the bill’s tax credit scheme, which is particularly burdensome on older consumers, would be an area of discussion.
“Nothing has been promised, it’s what I am looking for,” she said.
By mid-afternoon, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) made the walk into McConnell’s office. He told reporters that he wanted more support for mental health and addiction programs, and has previously raised concerns about protecting people with pre-existing conditions.
Cassidy emerged more than an hour later to tell reporters: “I certainly laid out my concerns and they indicated a willingness to work with us, that does not necessarily mean they are addressed. I think they’re open to it, but whether that’s where they end up, I don’t know.”
Specifically, he said he wants “to take care of pre-existing conditions,” and “lower premiums. People are just groaning beneath these premiums,” but declined to elaborate on what specific policies were under consideration. When asked if he received any commitments from McConnell on these fronts, Cassidy answered: “No, not at all.”