- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Senate Republican leaders said Tuesday they plan to settle the fight over Obamacare once and for all this month, rejecting calls to work with Democrats and plowing ahead with a GOP-written bill even though it’s unclear if they can pin down enough GOP votes for passage.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he’ll release a revised health care bill Thursday and get a formal budget analysis next week, clearing the way to begin voting.

“We’re going to do health care next week,” the Kentucky Republican said.

Leaders cannot afford more than two GOP defections, and are searching for ways to win over some of the dozen or so senators who are withholding their support.

“We know what the decision points are, and we have to make those decisions,” Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, said. “Every time you move the dial one direction, you maybe add some new members but lose some more over here. I think right now we’re trying to find the sweet spot.”

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has offered a plan that would split the insurance market, allowing insurers to offer some plans that comply with Obamacare coverage rules and others that don’t.

Mr. Cruz said his idea “is the key to getting 50 votes and passing Obamacare repeal,” and it enjoys the open support of Vice President Mike Pence.

Yet it will need a good evaluation from the Congressional Budget Office to gather widespread support, and the Senate’s referee — the parliamentarian — must decide whether it comports with budget rules that will allow Republicans to avoid a Democratic filibuster of their bill.

Moderates already are skittish about the Cruz plan, saying it will raise prices among sicker Americans who remain in robust coverage, particularly hurting those whose don’t qualify for enough subsidies to keep up with the costs.

“It is simply not the answer. I think it would cause premiums to go up for a lot of people,” Sen. Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican, said late Monday.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, told Fox News on Tuesday he remains “very pessimistic” about the GOP bill’s chances overall.

GOP leaders outlined some changes at a closed-door luncheon on Tuesday, but they did not appear to address moderates’ concerns about cuts to Medicaid insurance for the poor.

Republicans also remain divided over strategy. Conservatives have repeated their calls for a straight repeal of Obamacare if they cannot agree on a replacement, though Mr. McConnell has hinted he would instead seek out Democrats to shore up the troubled law.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, is working on his own plan that could gain bipartisan support, though aides were tight-lipped, saying details will come later in the week.

Democrats also pushed for a bipartisan fix, saying Republicans will never reach consensus on their own.

“They’ve had six months on the bill. They haven’t been able to make any progress,” Mr. Schumer said.

President Trump is still hoping for a full replacement bill, saying he can’t imagine lawmakers “would dare to leave Washington” without one.

But the Trump administration announced Tuesday it is already working within Obamacare’s waiver system to tweak the law at the state level, approving a “reinsurance” program in Alaska that subsidizes the costs of consumers with one or more of 33 high-cost medical conditions so that healthier consumers don’t have to absorb their insurers’ risks by paying more.

 

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