Senate Republicans are preparing to vote on Obamacare repeal next week, according to multiple sources familiar with the negotiations, potentially leaving rank-and-file lawmakers with no more than a week to review legislation that would affect millions of Americans and one-sixth of the U.S. economy.
Senators are expected to see the text of the bill as soon as the end of this week, those sources said, provided this week’s work goes smoothly. The timeline could change based on the response from individual senators toward the proposal at party meetings, but Republicans are increasingly optimistic they can hold a vote next week if this week’s lunch talks go well.
“I believed the majority leader when he said he’s going to take it up. I expect us to vote on it next week,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). “It’s close. Everybody’s been counting [votes] since the beginning. It’s been close since the beginning.”
Such a timeline would mean Republicans would have about a week to review text of a bill to repeal the 2010 health care law. Burr said he would be comfortable with that timeline: “We’ll debate it for 20 hours.”
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said he hopes Republicans have “as much time as it takes” to study the proposal. Democrats have slammed Republicans for moving so quickly and without holding public hearings.
“It’s not a light bill,” Hatch said. Asked whether they will vote this month, he replied: “We could. But clearly I wonder if we could.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) tried on Monday evening to get Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to commit to allowing at least 10 hours to review the legislation before it comes to the floor for a vote. McConnell wouldn’t commit to such a number.
“We’ll have ample opportunity to read and amend the bill,” McConnell said.
The timeline could blow up because there is no final deal yet on any of the sticking points and negotiations are still extremely fluid. McConnell can lose just two senators in his 52-member caucus to pass the bill, with Vice President Mike Pence as a tie-breaker.
Democrats have been revving up their opposition to the legislation, organizing hours of speeches on Monday attacking the GOP’s secretive process. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) called it “an affront to democracy itself.”
Democrats spent Monday drawing a contrast between the passage of Obamacare and its potential repeal, emphasizing that hundreds of Republican amendments were considered and Congress devoted weeks to debate in committee and on the floor before the bill, also known as the Affordable Care Act, was passed.
“We had a month of debate in the United States Senate in 2009 — that seems like a reasonable amount of time” for the GOP bill, said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).
But Republicans threw the Democrats’ own history on health care back at them, arguing that Democrats deployed secretive techniques and the party-line budget reconciliation process to ultimately pass a portion of Obamacare into law.
“I hope they’ll have more time than we did on Christmas Eve when [former Sen. Harry] Reid produced his bill,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
Republican leaders believe that entering the July 4th recess with their Obamacare quagmire unsolved could lose votes as well as hurt the GOP politically. But the rushed timeline could put rank-and-file Republicans in a tough spot with little time to deliberate such a consequential vote.
“We’re going to need a significant amount of time,” to review text, said Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska). “More than hours.” His remarks are the latest from rank-and-file GOP senators who have grumbled publicly about the process even as their leadership has vowed to steam ahead.
Last week, Republicans discussed insurance market stabilization in the short term as well as how to overhaul Medicaid and wind down its expansion. One proposal being floated would phase out the law’s Medicaid expansion over three years beginning in 2020 or 2021 and eventually curb the Medicaid growth rate more strictly than the House-passed bill, but that proposal has not yet been agreed on.
This week, Republicans will discuss how far to cut Obamacare’s regulatory regime and how much to beef up the House bill’s tax credits to help people buy insurance. Conservatives want to gut the regulations as much as possible; there is more consensus on the tax credits but not necessarily how to pay for them.
There is no guarantee the legislation will pass given the party divisions. But McConnell has made clear to associates he prefers not to let the bill linger so the Senate can turn to funding the government, raising the debt ceiling and rewriting the tax code, according to people who speak with him regularly.
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