A blow for Democrats and perhaps a lucky break for Republicans, who could use a couple in the long-shot effort to get ObamaCare repeal through the Senate. Earlier today, as I noted in this post, Democratic leadership demanded that the Congressional Budget Office do a thorough review of the Graham-Cassidy repeal-and-replace bill, which sounds reasonable — and would be, if not for an upcoming deadline:
JUST IN: Pelosi, Schumer, Yarmuth, Sanders release statement asking Congressional Budget Office to assess Graham-Cassidy legislation pic.twitter.com/nBYbL8XlAq
— NBC Politics (@NBCPolitics) September 18, 2017
This afternoon, the CBO rejected that request. Instead, they will deliver a preliminary score without two important talking points that Pelosi Schumer & Co need:
The score will include information on whether the legislation would reduce deficits by at least as much as was estimated for the House repeal bill passed earlier this year. It will also assess if the bill would save at least $1 billion and whether it would increase on-budget deficits in the long term.
But the nonpartisan scorekeeper warned the preliminary score will not include information on how the bill will affect health care coverage or insurance premiums. The CBO said it will be several more weeks before analysts will have those projections.
Democrats knew very well it would take that long, and hoped the CBO would help them run out the clock. If the CBO finds enough of a deficit savings to qualify for reconciliation, the coverage losses and premium impacts will all be pure speculation. (That’s hardly ever stopped anyone from using those arguments, though.) At that point, all Democrats will have left is the sharp reductions in future Medicaid spending increases, which they will call “drastic cuts,” but that’s not going to be enough to rally the troops.
It’s not entirely good news for Republicans on that front, though. Assuming “early next week” means Monday, September 25th, it gives the Senate five days to pass the bill under the House’s bill number and then get the House to pass it by majority vote to synchronize the two bills. By the end of the business day on the 30th, time will run out on the reconciliation vehicle. Unless Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell start getting the troops in line now, that may be far too short a time frame for this to work — especially since no one will be under the impression that they can go to conference on this bill. If it gets that far, it’s Sydney or the bush, so to speak. And Democrats have already begun to strategize to keep Republicans from reaching Sydney.
Republicans got an important endorsement from Arizona’s Gov. Doug Ducey for Graham-Cassidy. On a previous attempt, John McCain voted no to kill the repeal bill in part because Ducey had expressed opposition to it. McCain today said he’s “not supportive of the bill yet” and still wants regular order on it, but also earlier said Ducey’s judgment would go a long way to cementing his own position on any future repeal bill. That might also matter some to Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. They’d better make their minds up fast, and get ready for Democratic attacks on pushing forward without full CBO scoring — as if CBO scores mattered all that much in the past.