McConnell’s Emerging O’care Repeal Plan: Pass Anything, Punt To House!

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Updated at 1:16 p.m. ET

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) big plan to keep his Obamacare repeal efforts alive on Tuesday might come down to passing a narrowly tailored bill with provisions that are broadly popular with Republicans, letting them get to a conference committee with House Republicans without having to make any hard decisions.

The plan being discussed among senators would be to get through a motion to proceed to full debate on the House-passed American Health Care Act. Then after every amendment fails — both a straight repeal of the law and the Senate-crafted replacement plan that have failed to get 50 Republicans onboard as well as any Democrats offer to put GOP senators on the spot — the Senate would vote for a “skinny” plan to effectively repeal the employer and individual health care mandates, as well as the unpopular medical device tax, GOP aides tell TPM.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) hinted at that plan on Monday night, and Republican senators were discussing whether or not they could sign onto that plan as of Tuesday morning, just hours ahead of a crucial vote on a motion to proceed to debate on the legislation. If the motion to proceed fails, that could kill the bill once and for all.

“If we get anything out of the Senate, even if it’s narrow, you can then get into conference with the House,” Corker told reporters Monday evening.

And even some of the fiercest critics of earlier versions of the bill sounded ready to get on board with the more narrowly tailored provisions.

“If we cannot pass full, clean 2015 repeal, I’ve also been told we will vote on whatever version of CLEAN repeal we can pass,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) tweeted Tuesday morning. “Repealing mandates & taxes, without new spending and bailouts. This is the path I’ve been urging, and what I discussed with @realDonaldTrump. If this is indeed the plan, I will vote to proceed and I will vote for any all measures that are clean repeal.”

Paul went further during a talk with reporters early Tuesday afternoon, saying the skinny repeal is “what we’re talking about” — and arguing it include more than just repealing the mandates and medical device tax.

“There are ways to combine the 2015 repeal bill with the Senate leadership bill to a certain extent, and there are little items that can be paired together,” he told TPM during a scrum with reporters, saying that’s what senators planned to talk about at their policy luncheon ahead of the vote.

That’s far from a full repeal of the law, might not be workable policy in the real world, and doesn’t offer any clarity on what a final bill would look like. But it would buy Republican leadership time by getting into a full conference with the House and try to craft a repeal bill that could pass both chambers, taking the immediate pressure off of them to pass or fail on a bill on Tuesday.

It remains unclear whether that’s definitely the Republican plan — or that enough senators will go along to pass it — but it seems like the only one that might succeed at this point.

Though there’s broad consensus among Republican senators that the individual and employer mandates and medical device tax should be repealed, and the vote could put a few red-state Democrats on the spot, conservatives and moderates alike may balk at kicking the can further down the road and trusting that McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) can come to agreement on a plan that they’d want to vote for later on.

Hardline conservative Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-UT) office told TPM that he’s “undecided” on voting for such an an approach, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters Tuesday morning that he couldn’t support that plan.

“I don’t know if they’ve got 50 but I know that I’m not going to vote for something that’s a scaled down version, that’s a political punt,” he said, according to Politico.

But Paul’s support is big — and could signal other conservatives getting onboard.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) signaled Tuesday morning that he could support the so-called “skinny repeal.”

“I think it’s critical to honor our promise to repeal Obamacare,” Cruz said.

McConnell’s office didn’t deny that plan was in the mix, though they refused to offer any details.

“We haven’t made any announcements on amendments or predictions as to what amendments will be offered/succeed,” a McConnell spokesman said via email.

But Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the GOP’s No. 2 in the Senate, told reporters that the plan is “getting to conference.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cameron Joseph is Talking Points Memo's senior political correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covers Capitol Hill, the White House and the permanent campaign. Previous publications include the New York Daily News, Mashable, The Hill and National Journal. He grew up near Chicago and is an irrationally passionate Cubs fan.
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