- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 10, 2017

Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday said eliminating Obamacare remains the chief priority for the administration as it works with congressional Republicans to replace the health care law before the summer is over.

Mr. Pence said Congress has no choice but to scrap the 2010 Affordable Care Act as insurers pull out of the marketplace and request double-digit premium increases.

“Obamacare is dead. That’s why Obamacare must go,” Mr. Pence said in remarks from Milwaukee. “You’d have to be blinded by partisanship not to believe otherwise, and, unfortunately, some people are — Democrats in Congress, to be exact.”

Republicans are using fast-track budget rules to carve Democrats out of the repeal effort, but they’re still trying to pin down a plan that can satisfy at least 50 members of their narrow Senate majority.

The House GOP acted already, so the Trump administration is banking on the Senate to follow suit by Independence Day, prompting an outcry from Democrats who say Republicans are speeding ahead without public hearings.

“We have no idea what’s being proposed,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, said in fiery remarks last week from the Senate Finance Committee dais.

Public outrage over estimated coverage losses in the GOP’s plan nearly derailed the effort in the House, yet Senate Republicans have claimed momentum in recent days. Democrats and their progressive allies have responded with alarm, even as the news cycle is dominated by former FBI director James B. Comey’s testimony to senators probing alleged Russian meddling in last year’s election.

“This year, nobody would blame people who are feeling a little exhausted by politics,” Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, said in the weekly Democratic address. “But the fact of the matter is, there are critical, life-changing decisions being made about Americans’ health care right now in the United States Senate that should have people on high alert.”

Senate Republicans must dislodge a series of sticking points before they can proceed, however.

Aides said the Senate’s main referee, the parliamentarian, has raised concerns about language that would bar people from using refundable tax credits in the GOP plan for abortion.

Under the budget process known as “reconciliation,” the parliamentarian can scratch policy changes that aren’t related to the budget during a vetting process known in Capitol-speak as the “Byrd bath.”

Pro-life groups would revolt against any bill that allowed consumers to use government tax credits for abortion, so they’re hoping that lawmakers can legislate around the problem.

“We’re following this and are, as always, in communication with the Senate regarding alternative wording that can pass the ‘Byrd’ rule,” said Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life. “It’s essential to do so, of course, because without the defunding of abortion, we wouldn’t be able to support the bill. We’re confident, however, that the commitment of pro-life senators is strong enough to work out a solution without compromising the defunding of abortion and the abortion industry.”

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, has called on Senate Republicans to go around the parliamentarian by having Mr. Pence use his power as president of the Senate to overrule the parliamentarian from the chair during floor debate.

The House bill’s far-reaching cuts to Medicaid insurance for the poor are another sticking point for senators from states that vastly expanded their programs under Obamacare.

Republicans such as Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Dean Heller of Nevada are looking for a more gradual phaseout of generous federal funding that’s allowed their states’ to cover the needy and been a critical tool in fighting the opioids epidemic.

The House-passed bill would freeze enhanced federal funding for the expansion population in 2020. While those who’d enrolled by then would receive full funding until they cycled out of the program, new enrollees would be subject to each state’s pre-Obamacare funding formula, known in policy-speak as the “FMAP.”

Senators are looking for a more gradual phasedown of the expansion funding, with discussions ranging from an additional three to seven years.

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