- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Senate Republicans are finishing their Obamacare repeal bill and will release a discussion draft Thursday, leaders said Tuesday, hoping to counter Democrats’ complaints of secrecy and rally GOP support as they push toward a floor vote next week.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also said he expects a formal budget “score” of the emerging plan to be available before the vote, answering one of many complaints Democrats have lodged against the Republicans’ process for writing a health care bill.

“The Senate will soon have a chance to turn the page on this failed law,” said Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

Yet leadership is still trying to cobble together support for the plan, a process that will intensify once the text is released and the Congressional Budget Office weighs in.

For now, though, the secrecy continues to weigh on the GOP.

Multiple Senate Republicans confirmed on Tuesday that Mr. McConnell is, in fact, the one who is pulling the strings at this point.

Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, said in a Facebook video to constituents that he hasn’t seen the health bill, even though he’s on the 13-member working group charged with writing it.

“It’s not being written by us,” he said. “It’s apparently being written by a small handful of staffers for members of the Republican leadership in the Senate. So if you’re frustrated by the lack of transparency in this process, I share your frustration. I share it wholeheartedly.”

GOP leaders cannot afford to lose more than two Republican votes. It’s not clear what the vote count is at this point.

“None of us know what the bill is, so there would be no way to determine whether there’s 50 votes or not,” said Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican.

President Trump reportedly wants the Senate to come up with a bill that has “more heart” than the bill the House passed in May.

The CBO’s analysis could reveal whether the rewrite meets Mr. Trump’s test and could determine whether GOP moderates jump on board, or whether conservatives who want to kill as much of the 2010 Affordable Care Act as possible shun the plan.

Republicans are using fast-track budget rules to avoid a Democratic filibuster — they say Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and his troops are only interested in government-run health care.

The GOP base is counting on Senate Republicans to deliver on their repeal promises before political momentum for Mr. Trump’s agenda runs dry ahead of the mid-term elections.

Democrats are piling on from the sidelines, using parliamentary tools to slow Senate business even more than they already had been. On Tuesday they objected to a routine request to hold afternoon committee hearings, shutting down work in the intelligence committee, a Foreign Relations Committee hearing on combatting pandemics and a Judiciary Committee hearing on congressional investigations.

“As we’ve made clear to our Republican colleagues, if they continue to insist on ramming through a secret health care bill without any public input or debate, they shouldn’t expect business as usual in the Senate,” Mr. Schumer said.

Though their actions are largely symbolic, Democrats want to make the process as painful as possible for the GOP majority.

If Republicans can clear a bill, it would go back to the House, which could either accept it, or else demand a conference committee where negotiators from both chambers would hammer out a final compromise.

Senators are looking to make tax credits in their bill more generous for needy and older Americans who aren’t yet eligible for Medicare. Yet Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, said he’s worried his colleagues will try to dole out more taxpayer assistance than the 2010 law they’re trying to scrap.

“That, to me, really is a non-starter,” he said.

Conservatives such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mr. Lee have pushed to dismantle Obamacare’s rules that force insurers to cover a slate of “essential” benefits and charge healthy people the same as sick ones.

“They are one of the principle drivers of premiums skyrocketing,” Mr. Cruz said Tuesday.

Two Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, do not like a part of the bill that would defund Planned Parenthood over its abortion practice.

Mr. Obama’s vast expansion of Medicaid is another sticking point for several Republicans.

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