Obamacare repeal is in trouble in the Senate, and a nonpartisan analysis of the House’s repeal legislation issued Wednesday only reinforced that reality.
Within minutes of the release of the report showing 23 million fewer Americans would be insured over a decade, two Senate Republicans blasted the estimate and the House bill, underscoring just how much the legislation will have to change to get through the upper chamber.
Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), one of the few Senate Republicans expected to face a tough re-election contest next year, said the House bill “does not do enough to address Nevada’s Medicaid population or protect Nevadans with pre-existing conditions.”
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) also criticized the House bill for failing to adequately protect Americans with pre-existing medical conditions.
“Congress’s focus must be to lower premiums with coverage which passes the Jimmy Kimmel Test,” Cassidy said in statement, referencing the late night talk-show host who garnered national attention last month with his tearful monologue about his newborn’s heart surgery. “The AHCA does not. I am working with Senate colleagues to do so.”
While the new CBO analysis didn’t appear to pinpoint any fatal procedural flaws with the House bill — which would require another tumultuous vote in the lower chamber — there’s still a chance that it could run afoul of the arcane rules that would allow it to be passed in the Senate with a simple majority of votes. And many Republican senators, already critical of the House legislation, vowed after the CBO findings to come up with a better version — but it won’t be easy for them to bridge the divides among themselves and pass it.
The CBO analysis wasn’t all bad news for Republicans. It also found that it would reduce spending by $119 billion and would lower premiums starting in 2020. But those glimmers of good news will undoubtedly be overshadowed by projection that millions would not have coverage. And the Senate has little room to maneuver. Republicans need 50 votes — and there are only 52 Republicans in the Senate.
Democrats and their allies have pilloried the American Health Care Act as a massive tax cut for the rich paid for by ripping away coverage from low-income Americans. Polling has shown the bill to be deeply unpopular, and Republicans have weathered combustible town hall meetings filled with angry constituents,
Democrats immediately blasted the bill in response to the much-anticipated CBO findings.
“No wonder the Republicans were afraid of the CBO analysis,” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic Whip. “Trumpcare 2.0 will still force millions of Americans to lose their health insurance, raise premiums, and put critical health care services beyond the reach of hard-working families. All of this to give a GOP tax cut to the wealthiest.”
“Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans want to bring us back to the days when health care was only for the healthy and wealthy,” echoed California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, in a statement. “This is President Trump’s and House Republicans’ brave new world. Less health care, less money in their constituents’ pockets."
In response to the ugly coverage projections, Republicans have cast aspersions on the credibility of the CBO. They point out that the budget analysts were way off the mark in their predictions for how many people would sign up for Obamacare. Less than half as many Americans are enrolled in those plans at this point than was predicted by CBO.
"History has proven the CBO to be totally incapable of accurately predicting how health care legislation will impact health insurance coverage," said one White House official.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was downplaying the score’s coverage number before it even came out.
“It’s a technical, procedural step likely reiterating things we already know, like fewer people will buy a product they don’t want when the government stops forcing them to,” McConnell said Wednesday morning on the Senate floor. “Whatever the CBO says about the House bill today, this much is absolutely clear: the status quo under Obamacare is completely unacceptable and totally unsustainable.”
But Senate Republicans clearly see the peril of passing a bill that’s projected to lead to 23 million fewer Americans having coverage. They have stressed that they’re going to write their own repeal package and promised that it will be a significant improvement over the House version. A working group of 13 GOP senators has been holding thrice-weekly meetings to try and build consensus on a path forward. One of the biggest fissures remains around how to wind down Medicaid expansion in a way that won’t hurt constituents in states that took advantage of the Obamacare provision.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) blasted that working group on Wednesday for failing to include any female senators. “That is just unconscionable, added to the fact that it’s all being done behind closed doors,” she said on the Senate floor.
Several Republican senators on Wednesday afternoon declined to comment on specifics in the score, saying they hadn’t had a chance to read it yet.
“We needed to get to today so we can start having a little bit more serious effort on this,” said Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who represents a state that expanded Medicaid. “This will help it move forward.”