Senators Ernst, Grassley lower expectations on Obamacare repeal

The GOP Senate hasn’t officially given up yet but this certainly looks like a white flag waving in Iowa. From the Associated Press:

Lowering expectations, Iowa’s two Republican senators say the long-promised repeal of “Obamacare” is unlikely, and any final agreement with the Republican-controlled House is uncertain…

“You can’t repeal it in its entirety,” Ernst told reporters after a joint appearance with Grassley in suburban Des Moines.

“That just allows us to tinker around the edges,” Ernst earlier told Eric Borseth, an Altoona, Iowa, businessman who implored her to “get rid of that monstrosity.”

It’s not clear what tinkering around the edges means but it’s clearly a big step back from repeal and replace. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been making similar noises aimed at lowering expectations. From the Hill:

Expectations for repealing major parts of ObamaCare soared after the House passed its bill earlier this month, but McConnell cautions the votes in the Senate aren’t there yet.

What’s more, he’s not sure of the path to success.

“I don’t know how we get to 50 [votes] at the moment. But that’s the goal. And exactly what the composition of that [bill] is I’m not going to speculate about because it serves no purpose,” McConnell told Reuters on Wednesday.

The problem in the Senate is not unlike the one in the House. In the House you had the Freedom Caucus demanding one thing and the moderates rejecting those demands. In the Senate, you have moderates like Lisa Murkowski and Rob Portman who are looking to tone down the House bill. They have been aided by the CBO score which found the House bill would lead to tens of millions fewer people with health insurance (albeit many by their own choice).

Meanwhile, conservatives like Ted Cruz support the removal of some of the rules, such as coverage requirements, which they argue are responsible for the higher costs of Obamacare plans. Because the GOP has a slim majority, the defection of only a handful of Senators on either side of the various debates over coverage requirements, abortion, Medicaid, etc., would kill the Senate bill. So what we’re left with is going to be some kind of compromise that probably falls well short of repeal and which may amount to tinkering around the edges.

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David Strom 5:21 PM on March 31, 2023