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Mitch McConnell delays August recess to complete work on health care bill

Updated July 11, 2017 - 6:11 pm

WASHINGTON — A revised version of the Senate GOP health care bill will be unveiled in days and votes could begin next week, though Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would not say Tuesday whether he had gained enough votes to pass the controversial legislation.

“We are going to do health care next week,” McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters following a GOP caucus luncheon that included Vice President Mike Pence.

Although Republican leaders said they were moving forward with a bill, they did not describe changes to a first draft of the legislation that more than a dozen senators opposed, including Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.

Opposition from moderates and conservative GOP lawmakers forced McConnell to pull the bill from a vote before the July 4 holiday break.

Lawmakers returned to Washington this week to a message from President Donald Trump urging them to pass health care legislation before its next break.

McConnell announced Tuesday that he was delaying the month-long August recess to work on health care and other legislative priorities.

Once the Senate completes its work on health care reform, McConnell said the Senate will take up the defense bill and “the backlog of critical nominations that have been mindlessly stalled by Democrats.”

Democrats scoff at delay

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., scoffed at the recess delay and accusations of Democratic obstruction, saying Republicans have had seven years and six months to write a bill to replace the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare.

“They are struggling with health care. The problem is not timing, it’s the substance,” Schumer said. “Two more weeks isn’t going to solve their problems.”

Democrats are united in their opposition to repeal Obamacare, which passed without a single GOP vote in 2010.

Some 98 percent of letters and 93 percent of telephone calls to the office of Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., were opposed to “Trumpcare,” she said on social media.

Republicans are trying to repeal and replace the law under budget reconciliation rules that allow a simple majority vote. But with only 52 Republican members, McConnell can afford to lose only a couple of votes to pass the bill.

More than a dozen Republican senators have voiced opposition to a previous bill, including Heller, who said cuts to Medicaid could result in more than 200,000 Nevadans losing coverage.

Heller has said he wants to repeal Obamacare, and has voted to do so in the past, but has opposed the current Senate bill because of Medicaid cuts of more than $780 billion.

“Obamacare is a train wreck and we need to do something about it, but Senator Heller remains opposed to the Senate bill in its current form,” said spokeswoman Megan Taylor.

A Congressional Budget Office analysis found the Senate bill would result in the loss of coverage for 22 million people.

Republican leaders said a new CBO analysis on the revised legislation would likely come next week.

GOP divisions remain

But divisions remain among GOP conservatives, who want deeper cuts, and moderates who oppose Medicaid cuts and those who oppose defunding of Planned Parenthood, which provides prenatal care, family planning and cancer screening for low-income women.

Following Tuesday’s luncheon, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he was in favor of forming a bipartisan working group to write legislation that could garner votes from some Democrats.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said that at this point in the “chaos,” leaders from both parties should come together and work on the health care legislation.

Obamacare mandates included a provision that insurance companies provide coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions. It also required younger people to purchase insurance, or face tax penalties, and gave subsidies to low-income people to buy plans.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, are proposing language that would allow insurance companies to provide bare-bones coverage plans, as long as one plan was offered that includes all Obamacare mandates for pre-existing conditions.

Cruz told reporters his amendment would lower premiums. He also said his amendment was key to getting the votes needed to repeal Obamacare and pass a replacement bill.

“It remains challenging, but there is a path forward,” Cruz said.

Schumer called the Cruz amendment a “hoax” that would allow insurance companies to sell “junk plans.”

“It’s an extreme step in an already extreme bill,” said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.

The Cruz amendment was sent to the CBO to analyze.

Under a scenario outlined by Republican leaders, a procedural vote will be held to bring the legislation to the floor. The Senate then will proceed in a “vote-a-rama” on amendments.

Two weeks ago, Senate GOP leaders lacked support to bring the bill to the floor for consideration.

The House passed its version of the legislation earlier this year.

Trump made repeal of Obamacare a campaign pledge and has worked behind the scenes to muster GOP support in the Senate to give him his first major legislative victory.

Contact Gary Martin at 202-662-7390 or gmartin@reviewjournal.com. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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