It’s Not Just Us: Senate GOPers Also In The Dark About Their Health Care Bill

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., speaks to reporters outside the Senate Chamber about President Trump's speech to Congress, during the vote to confirm Ryan Zinke as President Donald Trump’s secretary of the Department of the Interior, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 1, 2017. A physician by training, Cassidy has introduced an Affordable Care Act alternative, called the Patient Freedom Act of 2017.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Rank-and-file Senate Republicans had one thing in common with their Democratic counterparts in the health care debate Tuesday: Most did not know exactly what is going to be in the GOP Obamacare repeal legislation expected to be unveiled Thursday and put up for a vote as soon as next week.

“Nobody really has a finalized health care bill. I don’t think anybody’s seen any kind of final text,” Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the No. 3 in Senate GOP leadership, told reporters Tuesday.

Heading into their regular lunches, GOP senators had few new details to provide reporters on their efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, despite reports that leadership was aiming for a vote by June 30.

Asked Tuesday morning if lawmakers would see the text of a bill later this week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said, “I don’t know.”

Asked if she knew who is drafting the bill, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said, “I do not.”

Both are considered key votes for leadership to earn, even though they exist at opposite ends of the Republican spectrum.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) answered that first question in his media availability after the lunch, announcing that a “discussion draft” would be unveiled Thursday. It’s possible that the draft could undergo changes before the bill goes to the floor.

As for who is writing the bill, members of the so-called health care working group complained Tuesday that even they and their staff have been cut out of the process.

“It has become increasingly apparent in the last few days that even though we thought we were going to be in charge of writing a bill in this working group, it’s not being written by us,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) said in a Facebook video posted Tuesday.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), one of the more candid Republicans on the Hill, revealed that the task had been centralized to McConnell’s staff.

“The [Majority] Leader, who really is writing this bill—I mean we can say that the Finance Committee is, we can say the Budget Committee is, we can say the HELP committee is—but the Leader’s office is writing the bill, and what they’re trying to do is, I’m sure, is attempt to hit the sweet spot in those differences that exist,” Corker said. “I haven’t seen what that it yet. To my knowledge, no one has seen that yet.”

In this environment, a number of key questions have not been answered, let alone analyzed by outside experts, even though the Senate may be voting on legislation in less than two weeks.

One rumor is that the cuts to Medicaid’s long-term funding will be even harsher than those in the House bill, the American Health Care Act. There are reports that a provision has been sent to the Congressional Budget Office with a slower growth rate to the limits on Medicaid spending that Senate GOPers are planning to put on the traditional program.

The fate of Medicaid expansion is also unclear at this point. It seems almost certain that the enhanced funding for the expansion population under the Affordable Care Act will be wound down, but there has been a back-and-forth about how long that phase-out would take.

As for the waivers in the House bill that allow states to opt out of certain Obamacare consumer protections, Axios reported Tuesday that they’re in the draft for now, but could be stripped out if it’s found that such waivers are not in compliance with Senate rules. Likewise, some of the anti-abortion provisions in the House legislation might also be nixed due to their violation of the rules related to the fast-track process Senate Republicans are using to avoid a Democratic filibuster.

Even as GOP senators have been increasingly vocal in their frustration with the lack of clarity on their repeal bill, there’s no sign that McConnell’s opaqueness will prompt Republicans to withhold their votes.

“In life, if you only wait for that which is exactly what you wish to have, you end up living on island by yourself,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) said.