Senate Holdouts Refuse To Fall In Line Despite Trumpcare Revisions

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine walks the hallways on Capitol Hill in Washington Thursday, July 13, 2017. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., rolls out the GOP's revised health care bill, pushing toward a showdown vote next week with opposition within the Republican ranks. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
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Caitlin MacNeal and Tierney Sneed contributed reporting.

After huddling behind closed doors for more than an hour on Thursday to discuss the freshly-unveiled text of their revised health care bill, most Senate Republicans emerged with declarations of confidence about next week’s expected vote.

“I haven’t quite seen the white smoke, but it’s looking much better,” Sen. Rodger Wicker (R-MS) told TPM with a grin.

Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) described the meeting as “very conciliatory.”

“I think we’ve got something we can work with,” he said.

But a host of Republican lawmakers are either torching the revised bill or withholding their support. As of Thursday afternoon, at least two GOP senators—Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Rand Paul (R-KY)—vowed to vote no on the motion to proceed. If just one more joins them, it will be enough to tank the Obamacare repeal effort entirely. At least ten other senators told reporters Thursday that they are undecided.

As GOP leaders huddled with these holdouts to attempt to coax them back into the fold, many complained, most vocally Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), that the changes made to the bill over the last few weeks do nothing to address their core concerns about deep cuts to Medicaid.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that there are hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to the Medicaid program,” Collins told reporters. “That would shift costs onto state government, it would hurt the most vulnerable citizens. It would have an adverse impact particularly on our rural health care providers, our hospitals and our nursing homes. And it is not something I can support.”

The revised bill does far more to appeal to the Senate’s right wing than its centrist members. Though it rolls back some tax cuts for the wealthy and offers moderates more funding to combat opioid addiction, in addition to a stabilization fund to lower premiums for lower-income Americans with severe health care needs, it still encourages people to purchase cheap, skimpy health insurance plans and retains the gradual elimination of the Medicaid expansion as well as all of the Medicaid cuts in the original bill.

Collins blasted her colleagues for rushing the bill straight to the floor, noting with frustration that the Medicaid cuts in the Senate’s bill are even more draconian than those in the House’s version.

“I don’t believe that you make major changes in an entitlement program on which millions of Americans depend without having a single hearing in the Senate to evaluate the impact,” she said.

Collins also expressed deep misgivings about the bill’s complete defunding of Planned Parenthood for a period of one year. She promised to introduce an amendment with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to kill that provision.

“I think it’s extremely short-sighted to eliminate the funding for Planned Parenthood,” she said. “It’s also unfair to single out one Medicaid provider, especially since there is already a prohibition on the use of federal dollars to finance abortions.”

But other lawmakers who had previously railed against proposed Medicaid cuts were much quieter after the revised bill was released, either dodging reporters entirely by taking a private elevator from the meeting or refusing to weigh in on the Medicaid question entirely.

“I need to look at it. I’m still digesting. I still have concerns,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), who emerged tight-lipped and grim-faced from the meeting later than most other senators.

Capito did confirm to reporters, however, that she would be meeting with GOP leadership about “the Medicaid issue” later Thursday afternoon. Capito, whose state’s uninsured rate would jump higher than any other if the bill passes, would not answer how she would vote on a motion to proceed.

She later posted a statement suggesting she is undecided due to “serious concerns about the Medicaid provisions.”

At least eight other senators—Murkowski, Dean Heller (R-NV), Rob Portman (R-OH), Mike Lee (R-UT), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), John Hoeven (R-ND), Corey Gardner (R-CO) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA)—indicated they were undecided on next week’s procedural vote. Paul announced Thursday that he remains opposed to the revised bill because it retains many of Obamacare’s taxes and regulations. Lee, a sometime-ally of Paul’s said of the revised bill: “It is unclear to me whether it has improved.”

Some previous holdouts, however, are dutifully falling in line.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who helped kill the first version of the bill, told reporters Thursday morning that he’s prepared to vote to advance it to debate on the Senate floor, despite major misgivings about the process used to craft the bill and its contents.

“We’re just kind of throwing stuff against the wall, concepts and policies and things that we think might work, and we haven’t given outside groups or the CBO or HHS or OMB the time [to review them],” he complained. “We should have started this back in February. It’s enormously frustrating to me.”

But much of the confusion and frustration about health care that spilled out into the open over the past few weeks seems to have dissipated now that revised legislation is out in the open (and goodies aimed at winning over senators from certain high-risk states have been tucked into it). Despite there being enough senators in the “undecided” camp to potentially kill the bill, GOP leaders believe they are on track for passage.

The man responsible for mustering the votes, Republican Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), barked a single word to reporters asking how he feels about the prospects of next week’s vote on the motion to proceed: “Confident.”

Correction: One version of this post mistakenly relied on previous statements from Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) to categorize him as a no vote on the motion to proceed. Heller does not appear to have restated his position since the revised version of the bill was released. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.
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