With conservatives accusing Republicans of reneging on their promises in the health-care debate, Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) decided to give Democrats an opportunity to keep theirs. Last night, Daines offered an amendment to establish a single-payer Medicare for All system in place of ObamaCare, using the legislative language offered by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) in the House. The idea, as NPR notes, is to get Democrats on the record about their real long-term goal on health care policy:
.@SenateMajLdr just called up my amendment to put Senators on the record on whether or not they support a single-payer healthcare system.
— Steve Daines (@SteveDaines) July 26, 2017
Some — such as Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who typically caucuses with Democrats — would be happy to support the measure, whereas others facing tough re-election battles in 2018 might be less enthusiastic.
Daines reported that Chuck Schumer oddly wanted to call it a day at that point:
Hmm now Dem Leader Schumer says they don't want to debate any further.
— Steve Daines (@SteveDaines) July 26, 2017
As it turns out, Bernie doesn’t think much of Conyers’ bill. He told Daines that he’s not falling for no banana in the tailpipe, or something:
“The Democratic caucus will not participate in the Republicans’ sham process,” said Sanders. “No amendment will get a vote until we see the final legislation and know what bill we are amending. Once Republicans show us their final bill, Sen. Sanders looks forward to getting a vote on his amendment that makes clear the Senate believes the United States must join every major country and guarantee health care as a right, not a privilege.”
The Daines amendment, which the Montana senator has admitted he won’t actually vote for, will propose the text of a “Medicare for All” bill backed by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.).
In other words, Daines just got ahead of himself. Thanks to the Senate procedures on reconciliation-qualifying bills, Senators from both parties can offer as many amendments as they like, which is why the process produces the “vote-a-rama” before the final vote on the underlying legislation can take place. Daines won’t put Democrats on the spot — Bernie will do that instead … maybe. It depends on the form Bernie’s amendment takes.
If Bernie actually proposes Medicare for all, how many of the 2018 Democratic incumbents in red states will want to vote on that amendment, anyway? Vote ‘yes,’ and Republicans will shred them for supporting big government and socialized medicine. Vote ‘no,’ and progressives will answer with primary challenges and non-stop attacks. On the other hand, if all Bernie proposes is a “sense of the Senate” on the “right” to health care, it’s not much for progressives to get excited over either, and would mostly be used to beat up vulnerable blue-state Senate Republicans next year. That consists of a grand total of one, Dean Heller from Nevada. Meh.
The basic story with Daines’ amendment will be that Bernie had the opportunity to vote for single payer and took a pass. Actually, only six members of the Democratic caucus voted “no” in the end, as the bill went down to defeat 0-57. All the others voted “present.” Tough luck, Rep. Conyers!
That’s a sideshow, however, to the overall attempt to repeal ObamaCare now. Where does that stand? Republicans failed to pass the BCRA, and they failed to pass a straight repeal with a two-year delay on the AHCA. Now it comes to the so-called “skinny repeal” plan, which consists of … er … let’s do lunch:
Source has told colleague @yabutaleb7 that Rs will *write* skinny bill @ today's policy lunch. Unclear if wish list meets reconciliation.
— Amanda Becker (@AmandaBecker) July 27, 2017
Bear in mind that the plan is to get to an up-or-down vote on the full bill tomorrow. Sanders wasn’t kidding when he said that these amendments don’t have legislative text to amend yet, and the clock is ticking. Several Senate Republicans went on record with Roll Call to warn that it might end up being yet another shell bill to kick the can to the House, or perhaps to a conference committee, to write the real bill:
Sen. Ron Johnson said Wednesday that it appeared the Senate was moving toward the so-called skinny repeal or some sort of a legislative shell. The Wisconsin Republican said the advantage of the process, which he conceded was can-kicking, would be the ability to get more information, including additional scores from the Congressional Budget Office.
“The problem-solving process starts with information; it’s not the endpoint. We haven’t had information until the very end here. So when you go to conference, there will be more opportunities for some of these ideas,” he said. “For those things to really be scored and really understand what the effect of those policy suggestions would be.”
As chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Sen. Lamar Alexander would likely play a key role as one of the leaders of the Senate conferees.
“The so-called skinny bill is obviously not a solution to the current problems with Obamacare, but it is a solution to how we get to the next step, the Senate-House conference where we would hope to solve the problems,“ the Tennessee Republican told Roll Call, echoing GOP leaders’ sentiments about the strategy.
Will the moderate Republicans trying to protect Medicaid allow that strategy to unfold? Maybe so:
Cornyn said broader negotiations on Medicaid reforms and other divisive issues would likely re-emerge in bicameral negotiations with the House. But some Republicans are worried that those talks would revive efforts to wind down a Medicaid expansion that’s benefited their states.
Centrist GOP Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia were undecided on the so-called skinny repeal Wednesday. Another Republican from an expansion state, Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada indicated he would back it.
“We’ll see at the end of the day what’s in it, but overall I think I’d support it,” Heller said. He said slashing Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion or its growth rate should be a nonstarter.
Conservatives might not bite on it, though, afraid that the conference committee could play Let’s Make a Deal without any constraints. That could tube the effort to pass the conference report in both chambers, although that’s tempered by the pressure from GOP voters to fulfill their seven-year pledge to repeal and replace ObamaCare.
Maybe after today’s dessert in the Senate commissary, we’ll get a look at what’s on the health-care reform menu. But don’t bet on it.