Senate Republicans returned to Washington from a holiday recess with new and deepening disagreements about their health-care bill, with key Republicans differing Sunday not merely on how to amend the bill, but also on whether a bill could pass at all.
âI would probably put that as 50-50,â Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said in a âFox News Sundayâ interview.
âThey will get a repeal and replace bill done,â White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said on the same show.
âMy view is itâs probably going to be dead,â Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on CBSâs âFace the Nation.â
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellâs decision to push debate on the Better Care Reconciliation Act past the Independence Day recess was supposed to create space for dealmaking. âLegislation of this complexity almost always takes longer than anybody else would hope,â McConnell (Ky.) said at a June 27 news conference announcing the delay.
Instead, Republicans have run in different directions, proposing everything from a bipartisan deal to pay for insurance subsidies to a ârepeal and delayâ plan that would give them a few years before the Affordable Care Act would be fully gutted.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), the author of a âConsumer Freedom Optionâ amendment designed to bring conservatives on board with the bill, spent part of Sunday insisting that its critics were wrong. His amendment, also supported by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), would allow insurers to once again offer cheaper plans that did not include the Affordable Care Actâs essential health benefits.
âYou have millions of people who are winners straight off: young people,â said Cruz in a âFace the Nationâ interview. âYoung people get hammered by Obamacare. Millions of young people suddenly have much lower premiums.â
Over the recess, however, key Republicans told local media outlets that the amendment weakened protections that the party had promised to keep in place.
âI think that reopens an issue that I canât support, that it would make it too difficult for people with preexisting conditions to get coverage,â Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) told the Charleston Gazette-Mail on Friday.
âThereâs a real feeling that thatâs subterfuge to get around preexisting conditions,â Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) told Iowa Public Radio on Wednesday. âIf it is, in fact, subterfuge, and it has the effect of annihilating the preexisting conditions requirement that we have in the existing bill, then obviously I would object to that.â
On ABCâs âThis Week,â Cruz said that colleagues such as Grassley were simply being misled. âWhatâs being repeated there is what [Senate Minority Leader Charles E.] Schumer said this week, which is that he called it a hoax,â he said. âChuck Schumer and Barack Obama know a lot about health-care hoaxes.â
Schumerâs Democrats, meanwhile, have continued campaigning against the BCRA, saying that they will come to the table on health care only if Republicans give up on repeal. Throughout the recess, progressive activists, urged on by Democrats, protested and occupied the offices of Republican senators. On Friday, 16 protesters were arrested at the Columbus office of Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), joining dozens arrested in civil disobedience around the country.
âWe arenât going to allow a handful of Socialists, many of whom are from New York, to disrupt our ability to serve the needs of the Ohio constituents who contact us in need of vital services every day,â Portmanâs office said in a statement.
Still, opponents of the health-care bill were far more visible than its supporters. The pro-Trump organization America First Policies floated then abandoned a plan to organize pro-BCRA rallies. While no prominent Senate Democrats appeared on Sundayâs talk shows, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) spent the day rallying voters in West Virginia and Kentucky against the bill.
âMitch McConnell is now trying to make side deals in order to win votes,â Sanders said in West Virginia. âI say to Senator Capito: Please do not fall for that old trick. This legislation is fatally flawed, and no small tweak here or there will undo the massive damage that it will cause to West Virginia and the entire country.â
Republicans, meanwhile, were openly talking about next steps if they could not amend the BCRA to win 50 votes. (Vice President Pence, who has signaled that the White House would sign off on any repeal bill, would cast the tiebreaking vote.) On âFox News Sunday,â Cassidy suggested that his own bipartisan legislation to continue much of the Affordable Care Act could get a second look, and that in the meantime, Republicans could work with Democrats to provide more subsidies for private plans.
âI do think we have to do something for market stabilization,â said Cassidy. âOtherwise, people who are paying premiums of $20,000, $30,000 and $40,000 will pay even that much more.â
Other Republicans, including McConnell, had warned that the BCRAâs failure would lead to a deal on subsidies. Yet conservatives, not ruling out the billâs passage, spent the weekend talking up another backup plan. At a Republican fundraising dinner in Iowa, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) suggested that Republicans could repeal most of the ACA, forcing Democrats to the table to work on a replacement.
âIf we canât replace and repeal at the same time, then repeal the law and stay and work on replace full time,â said Sasse.
On Fox, Cassidy â one of the Senateâs few physicians â said the repeal-and-delay plan was a fantasy.
âIt gives all the power to people who actually donât believe in President Trumpâs campaign pledges, who actually donât want to continue to cover and care for preexisting conditions and to lower premiums,â Cassidy said. âIt gives them the stronger hand. I think itâs wrong.â