What? House GOP hasn't sent health-care bill to the Senate, may need to vote again

As things get dicier in the White House, it’s a comfort to know we still have competent leadership in the House.

Remember, although an earlier version of the AHCA would have reduced the deficit by $150 billion over 10 years according to CBO, Ryan and his team refused to wait for CBO’s score of the amended version that passed the House a few weeks ago. And because they didn’t, they ended up holding a Rose Garden ceremony for a bill that might end up being defective under parliamentary rules. Gross malpractice, if the new score is bad:

According to several aides and other procedural experts, if Republicans send the bill to the Senate now and the CBO later concludes it doesn’t save at least $2 billion, it would doom the bill and Republicans would have to start their repeal effort all over with a new budget resolution. Congressional rules would likely prevent Republicans from fixing the bill after it’s in the Senate, the aides said…

If Republican leaders hold onto the bill until the CBO report is released, then Ryan and his team could still redo it if necessary. That would require at least one more House vote of some sort…

It’s unclear what assumptions the CBO will make about what states will do with that newly created flexibility. If millions of people sign up for much cheaper, minimal insurance, that could trigger billions — and potentially even hundreds of billions — in costs over a decade because of the House bill’s health insurance tax credits.

The last paragraph is the important one. Under the bill, states can apply for waivers from ObamaCare regs requiring all insurance plans to cover Essential Health Benefits. Once they’re freed from having to cover EHBs, insurers can offer much cheaper, pared-down plans. Those cheaper plans mean less revenue coming in due to lower premiums even as tax credits are flowing out. In other words, there is a chance that the new CBO score will project no deficit reduction from the new bill, which means reconciliation is a nonstarter in the Senate and the House bill will need to be fixed — and Republicans will be stuck taking another brutal vote.

All of this comes as news to some House Republicans as much as it does to you and me. Several GOP congressmen, like Jeff Denham and Dennis Ross, had no idea that Ryan was holding onto the bill because there’s a chance CBO might kill it. “We’ve got to wait for the CBO score,” said Greg Walden, head of a key committee that helped write the bill, to Bloomberg. But critics were yelling about that weeks ago, before the vote. Wait for the CBO score! As flawed as CBO projections are on health care, they’re still potent politically. Don’t make your members sign on to a bill whose price tag they don’t yet know but will need to defend soon enough. Ryan and his team rushed the bill to the floor and pushed it through precisely because they feared that the CBO projections for the new bill would be worse than for the original version and that GOP fencesitters would get cold feet. But in their haste, they may have gotten the worst of both worlds. They looked shady ramming the bill through without a score, as though they were afraid to reckon with the fiscal consequences of their own program, and now they may have that vote effectively canceled and be forced to reckon with those consequences anyway due to their own poor planning. Imagine being a House Republican who walked the plank and voted yes on the last bill, only to be told next week that you need to vote again on what’ll probably be another unpopular revision. Now you’re stuck defending two hard votes, not just one. Will Ryan even have a majority for the next iteration?

In sum, in their rush to get the bill through before CBO rendered its verdict, they seem to have forgotten that nothing much can happen until CBO renders its verdict. (At least if reconciliation is to be used.) Not terrific! Exit question: How’s the GOP going to raise enough revenue from the bill to clear the deficit-reduction hurdle? Reportedly Republicans in the Senate are considering … desperation measures.