Photo by Joan Walsh
A growing number of GOP senators are hoping the House fails to pass its bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare so they won’t be blamed for killing it in the upper chamber.
Support for the House legislation has “disintegrated” in the Senate, according one Republican senator who requested anonymity to discuss internal conference politics.
It will require substantial revisions to win the support of moderate Republicans in the upper chamber — something that will likely make it unacceptable to conservatives.
Given what looks like an unbridgeable divide in the Senate GOP conference, some are saying that it would be better if the bill dies in the House.
“I’ve heard that maybe the best thing is that this doesn’t get out of the House so we’re not the ones who ditch it,” said a Republican senator who has publicly voiced concern about the bill but requested anonymity. “Right now this is disintegrating in the Senate, with everyone off on their own about what they don’t like about the bill.”
The lawmaker said that voting for the House measure could come back to haunt Republicans again and again, just as votes for ObamaCare in 2009 and 2010 came back to hurt Democrats in the 2010, 2014 and 2016 elections.
“It’s tough to vote for policy that hurts people,” the senator added.
An analysis released by the Congressional Budget Office Monday found that the House plan, known as the American Health Care Act, would increase the number of uninsured by 24 million compared to current law over a decade.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who is emerging as a leading voice in the Senate healthcare debate, called the projection “eye-popping” and “awful.”
Several of his colleagues have had similar reactions, though they are holding back on slamming the House bill out of courtesy to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and their own leadership.
Another Republican senator who requested anonymity to discuss the House bill candidly said, “There are no good options.”
The lawmaker acknowledged that not fulfilling the party’s campaign promise to repeal and replace ObamaCare would be politically painful in the short-term but worried that voting for bad policy could have negative reverberations for the GOP over the next decade.
“The best thing may be to kill it early so it doesn’t come over here,” the GOP senator said.
“One option may be for it to fail and for ObamaCare to continue to implode so that it drives us,” the senator added.
If premiums continue to rise and health insurance companies continue to drop out of the federal and state exchanges, there could be less political blowback from repealing ObamaCare, the legislator reasoned.
A third Republican senator said, “I think it’s better if it does not come out of the House in its current form.”
The lawmaker said if House GOP leaders manage to pass it, the measure should undergo a major renovation in the Senate by going through hearings and markups in the Finance and Health committees.
Ryan is determined to pass the House bill and told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview on Wednesday that senators are free to amend the legislation as they see fit. But it remains to be seen if Ryan can get the votes. According to a whip count by The Hill, at least 15 House Republicans are leaning no or are staunchly opposed to it. Dozens are declining to say where they stand. If all members vote and all Democrats reject the legislation, Ryan can only afford 21 defections.
Ryan declined to say whether he could pass the bill if it came to the floor this week.
“It’s going through the legislative process. That legislative process has not been finalized,” he told Tapper. “That’s, no offense, that’s kind of a goofy question or faulty premise, because this goes through four committees. We’ve gone through two so far.”
Earlier this month, Ryan guaranteed that the legislation would pass the House.
David Brooks, a center-right columnist for The New York Times, warned last week that the House healthcare bill, if enacted, “will probably lead to immense pain and disruption.”
“That will discredit market-based social reform, cost the Republicans their congressional majorities and end what’s left of the Reagan-era party,” he predicted.
While not persuasive among conservatives, this doomsday scenario is alarming to Republicans from swing states.
Senate Republican leaders are trying to shore up their crumbling ranks by warning them the political fallout will be worse if their party fails to deliver on its campaign promises over the past several elections to repeal ObamaCare.
“I couldn’t disagree more,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) when told some of his colleagues hope the bill will die in the House.
“How do you explain not keeping the promise we made in the last three elections to repeal ObamaCare?” he said.
“We think we know a better way to deliver healthcare through free-market competition and more choices that lower costs,” he said. “If you believe that, you believe this is going to work. If you don’t believe that, it’s a different situation.”
A senior GOP aide said Republicans have no excuse for not repealing the controversial law because “we own government” and noted that President Trump made repeal a core promise of his 2016 campaign.
Yet, Trump has also said on a number of occasions that Republicans could choose to do nothing and watch ObamaCare collapse in 2017. Trump, who has endorsed but not fully embraced the House bill, has indicated he wants to sign a repeal-and-replace bill.
During a Wednesday appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) advised Trump that he should let ObamaCare falter if he can’t strike a better deal.
Later in the day, Graham told radio host Hugh Hewitt, “If you don’t believe it’s better than ObamaCare over the long haul, if you think you’re going to own it for the rest of your life, President Trump, it will be called TrumpCare — don’t buy it.”
Internal talk about delaying the repeal of ObamaCare indefinitely has some members of the Senate Republican Conference bristling.
“Now is the time for action,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told a gathering of activists outside the Capitol Wednesday.
“Failure is not an option. If Republicans take this opportunity and blow it, we will rightly be considered a laughingstock,” he warned.
Repealing the law appeared to be a goal that unified the party when the Republican-controlled Senate and House passed legislation that would have gutted the law in 2015. The stakes were lower then because President Obama was widely expected to veto it, and did.
Consensus has disappeared now that Republicans in Congress know that whatever they pass will be signed into law by Trump.
Behind closed doors, moderates are telling their colleagues that the political calculations have changed.
“The debate at my lunch today was over people who want more subsidies, more government subsidies for health insurance,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told The Hill in an interview Wednesday.
“It’s disappointing, but they claim they weren’t really voting last time, they were pretending to vote last time,” he added.
Paul also wants the House bill to fail, but his motivation is different from that of centrist GOP senators.
He wants to scrap the American Health Care Act and replace it with legislation stripped of subsidies that promotes greater competition in the marketplace by equalizing treatment of healthcare insurance between individual- and employer-purchased plans.
“Though I want to believe the glass is half full, I am tempted, very tempted, to smash a glass half full of ObamaCare Lite — smash that glass to smithereens!” he wrote in an op-ed published Wednesday on Breitbart.
Another Senate conservative and former House member, Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), last week called on his “friends in the House” to “pause, start over.”
Should the House approve its bill, Cotton said, Republicans could lose their majority in the lower chamber.
“Do not walk the plank and vote for a bill that cannot pass the Senate and then have to face the consequences of that vote,” he told ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos.
House Republicans, however, are vowing to pass the legislation next week. They want to get the political hot potato off their plate as soon as possible.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that a large contingent of House Republicans want to pass a bill, even if it is likely to die in the Senate, because they don’t want to get blamed by conservative constituents for failing to pass an ObamaCare repeal bill endorsed by Trump.