Why Senate GOP Could Vote To Repeal Obamacare More Quickly Than You Think

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 29: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks during a news conference in the Capitol on the Senate agenda, September 29, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call... UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 29: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks during a news conference in the Capitol on the Senate agenda, September 29, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images) MORE LESS
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Senate Republicans do not appear to have backed down from their goal to vote on a yet-to-be-unveiled bill to repeal Obamacare by the July 4th recess, despite having just two full working weeks left before the deadline and no legislation to show to the rank-and-file yet.

Conventional wisdom holds that the Congressional Budget Office will need about two weeks to score the final piece of legislation, and GOP senators, unlike their colleagues in the House, say they will need to see that score before they vote.

However, many Republican senators say their “hope” is that a score on the final legislation won’t take as long as expected because they’ve had the CBO provide feedback on the various individual proposals under consideration as they’re shopped around the GOP conference.

“That would be the hope,” Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the No. 3 in GOP leadership, said Thursday, while stressing that a final product will get a comprehensive score.

“There are interactions and feedback effects between different features of the bill and how you dial them,” Thune said. “So we’re going to try our best to make sure that when we have an eventual bill that it meets the requirements that we have to meet, in terms of reconciliation.”

A number of Senate Republicans have said they won’t vote on repeal legislation without a CBO score. Procedurally, they will need a score to determine whether their legislation saves the government at least as much money as the House GOP repeal bill, which is a requirement of the reconciliation process Republicans are using to avoid a Democratic filibuster.

“We’ll need less [time], but we will still have to get the CBO score before we vote,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), a key Republican in the repeal efforts, said.

Asked if it would still take the CBO a full two weeks to score the legislation the Senate GOP settles on, Alexander said, “I’m not going to predict.”

“What [the CBO has is] all dial-able issues, so you can say, ‘If you set this number, it does this and if you set that number, it does that,’” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), who is also on the leadership team and is participating in health care discussions. For instance, Senate Republicans are aiming to cushion the phaseout of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and to make tax credits for individual insurance more generous for some of the people short-changed under the House bill’s tax credit scheme.

“You want to know what your costs are for the different options, because there are so many things on the air in it,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) told TPM. “We are trying to do the most we can do and still know what our costs are.”

Senate Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), have taken extraordinary steps to keep their plans for dismantling the Affordable Care Act out of public view. They’ve hosted closed-door working group meetings multiple times a week and have also presented their options in the Senate GOP’s conference-wide private lunches. There aren’t expected to be any public committee hearings, and McConnell has set the procedural stage to bring the legislation directly to the Senate floor once it’s scored.

Key Republicans remained optimistic Thursday that they would be able to pull off a vote by the next recess, even though many of the key questions remain unanswered in their effort—including how quickly to phase out Medicaid expansion and which Obamacare taxes to keep in order to pay for an individual market stabilization fund.

“Senator McConnell said there would be a vote,” Barrasso said when asked if Republicans would still be able to meet the July 4 deadline.

“It’s a hope, it’s an aspiration, it’s the plan,” Thune said, when asked about the timeline.

Others appear willing to let the process lapse into July and to aim for a vote by the month-long August congressional recess instead.

“It’s not like your wife’s birthday,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) told reporters. “If you miss your wife’s birthday, there’s hell to pay. On the other hand, if you don’t cut the grass on Friday, but you do it on Saturday, it’s not a big deal.”

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