Johnson Now Iffy On O’care Repeal After News Of McConnell’s Backroom Assurances

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., center, who has expressed opposition to his own party's health care bill, walks to a policy meeting as the Senate Republican legislation teeters on the brink of collapse, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 27, 2017. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., needs 50 members of his conference to back the GOP health care bill in order to pass it but a new Congressional Budget Office analysis imperils the legislation, complicating GOP leaders' hopes of pushing the plan through the chamber this week. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
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In late June, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) helped block the GOP health care bill from moving forward, saying he needed more time to study its provisions. Last week, he announced he would support bringing it to the floor. Now, he is once again undecided, after hearing from TPM that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is promising moderates that the deepest Medicaid cuts in the bill will never really come to pass.

On Thursday, the day leadership unveiled the revised bill, TPM asked Johnson to comment on a Washington Post report that McConnell was telling moderate Republican senators—who are wary of the bill’s long-term gutting of Medicaid—that a future Congress and president will not let it go into effect.

“Is he really?” Johnson asked, frowning. “That would be highly disappointing if that’s his attitude.”

Over the weekend, Johnson went further, telling local Wisconsin press that because McConnell is apparently selling different narratives to his moderate and conservative members, he has committed a “breach of trust” and can’t count on Johnson’s vote.

“I am concerned about Leader McConnell’s comments to apparently some of my Republican colleagues — ‘Don’t worry about some of the Medicaid reforms, those are scheduled so far in the future they’ll never take effect,'” he said. “I think those comments are going to really put the motion to proceed in jeopardy, whether it’s on my part or others.”

Johnson said that despite the Senate bill’s flaws, he was willing to vote for it because it ended the Medicaid expansion and sharply curtailed the growth of the program overall. But McConnell’s reported backroom conversations are making him doubt what he’d been promised.

“If our leader is basically saying don’t worry about it, we’ve designed it so that those reforms will never take effect, first of all, that’s a pretty significant breach of trust, and why support the bill then?” he told a small audience in Green Bay.

He also complained to reporters in DC last week—before McConnell announced he was delaying the vote due to Sen. John McCain’s surgery—that leadership is rushing the process and not giving lawmakers the time to make an informed decision.

“We haven’t given outside groups, much less the CBO or HHS or OMB, the time to weigh in,” he lamented. “This is complex. We need to ask: ‘What does this idea do? What would be the effect of that?’ We should have started back in February going through that iterative process and doing analysis. But instead, here we are. It’s enormously frustrating to me.”

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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