Third time’s the charm? Kellyanne Conway told Fox & Friends this morning that the third push for ObamaCare repeal looks like it may succeed in the Senate. “We’re getting close to 50 votes,” the White House counselor told the panel, but we’ve been close to 50 votes all along. The trick is actually getting to 50 votes, a trick that Mitch McConnell has yet to achieve despite having a majority in the upper chamber. Will Graham-Cassidy prove any different than the previous two bills?
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) September 18, 2017
Senate Republican leaders seem increasingly focused on reviving their effort to undo the Affordable Care Act before the end of the month, asking Congress’s nonpartisan budget analysts to fast-track consideration of a plan that would devolve federal health-care spending to states.
The Congressional Budget Office is in the process of estimating the cost and coverage impact of the so-called Graham-Cassidy bill, according to a senior Senate Republican aide. The measure from Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) would provide states with funding to establish health insurance programs outside ACA protections and mandates, an approach that could force millions off insurance rolls.
Republicans are facing pressure to undercut the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, with legislation as soon as possible, partially because the Senate’s ability to pass budgetary legislation with a simple majority expires Sept. 30. After that date, health-care legislation will require 60 votes to pass, making it much harder for Republicans to approve legislation that would restructure Obamacare.
Well, kind of. Republicans can set up another reconciliation effort next year when they pass a budget resolution for FY2019, but trying to get 50 votes in a midterm election year will be even more difficult. It’s probably now or never.
One other quibble with Conway’s argument here: Robert Menendez’ trial really has no impact at all on this. Even if Menendez isn’t present, Republicans still have to get to 50. The only way it would matter is if Menendez resigns after being found guilty, but that would have to happen by the end of this week in order for Chris Christie to appoint an interim replacement, presumably a Republican who would vote for the repeal. The parliamentarian’s deadline all but makes that scenario impossible and leaves the GOP in exactly the same position they’ve been all year.
If the GOP’s close to 50 on repeal, though, why are they also close to a majority for a bill that stabilizes ObamaCare?
The leaders of the Senate Health Committee expressed optimism Thursday that a bipartisan deal to stabilize the insurance markets was within reach.
The goal, according to Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), is to put the final touches on a bipartisan package the week of Sept. 18 with the hope the Senate will pass it by the end of the month.
The panel held four hearings on the topic over the last two weeks, bringing in governors, insurance commissioners and experts as Alexander and the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), attempt to craft a deal to help the insurance markets.
The Daily Beast says both are on track, and that Republicans — some Republicans, anyway — argue that the two bills can work in parallel. The Alexander-Murray bill would stabilize the exchanges for the short period of time in which responsibility for them could be shifted back to the states, along with reforms and rollbacks of mandates and other regulations:
“We view it as more of a complementary effort rather than contradictory. Regardless of whether Graham-Cassidy passes or doesn’t pass, there still needs to be stabilization in 2018,” the aide told The Daily Beast. “In a policy sense, they don’t really contradict each other in any way. Politically, how much time there is and if both could go to the floor, that’s an open question.”
Senate Democrats are calling foul on the two-track GOP strategy, warning that they may balk on cooperation:
Murray told The Daily Beast last week that she worries Graham-Cassidy could imperil the committee’s bipartisan efforts, and in turn derail attempts to mitigate the potentially disastrous premium hikes. She said the debate on repeal-and-replace has been settled and “we’re not going there.” Moreover, a Democratic aide said it would be “counterproductive to an extreme” for Republicans to support the Alexander-Murray stabilization package and “then rip apart the same system they had just set up” by getting behind Graham-Cassidy.
They also want the CBO to take its time in reviewing the Graham-Cassidy bill:
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 looks like a good PR strategy to fire up the base, but tactically speaking it might be better for Democrats to keep moving on the stabilization bill. Republicans have twice failed to pass ObamaCare repeal bills, and so far there are not too many indications that they can get this one through in the next twelve days either. The CBO score might not allow for it to go through under reconciliation, but even if it does, there’s no indication that the House will go along with it. Even if they do, though, this threat won’t peel off any Republicans anyway.
In the meantime, they can get Republicans on the hook for an ObamaCare bailout if it passes. If it doesn’t, they can use a failure to pass it as a club with which to beat them over the head in the midterms when the exchanges collapse from the contradictions within ObamaCare itself. At this point, anything but a repeal is a win for them, and depending on the repeal, even that’s spinnable.