Senate Republicans Draft Obamacare Repeal Bill Behind Closed Doors

Top Senate Republicans and their staff are plowing ahead with a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare in the hopes of getting legislation on the floor by mid-summer — even if their own GOP colleagues have no idea what the bill will contain.

“It’s coming together and there’s a lot of feedback of (Congressional Budget Office) trying to get scores on different policy options … but it’s coming,” South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, told reporters Monday evening. The CBO does nonpartisan scoring of legislation, analyzing things like how many people will gain or lose health care or how much the bill will cost if enacted.

“I think we’re getting there,” Thune said when USA TODAY asked whether the bill was getting close to completion.

“We’re getting close to having a proposal to whip and to take to the floor,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters last week when he was asked whether Republicans could pass a bill by the July Fourth recess.

But that confidence was lost on rank-and-file Republicans, many of whom told reporters at the Capitol on Monday that they had no idea what was being drafted.

“I want to know exactly what’s going to be in the Senate bill, I don’t know it yet,” Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson told reporters. “It’s not a good process.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters he didn’t know any details about the bill, except that “they’re writing it.”

“We’re trying to do it from a one-party prospective because no Democrat is willing to help us … but no, this is not the best way to do health care, but it’s the way we’re having to do it,” Graham said.

“Until I see the language I don’t know what’s there and so I would like to see language. If you don’t see language, sure you’ve got a sense but your sense could be wrong,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La.

The Budget Committee is drafting legislation with the input of members following a meeting last week where Republicans were presented with a broad outline of a plan, said a Republican Senate aide who was not authorized to discuss the legislation before it is unveiled.

The ideas presented last week were non-binding, but they were the clearest breakdown yet of provisions the bill may end up being included. The aide said staff took feedback from Republicans and will present an updated — and more detailed — version of a plan at Tuesday’s Republican policy lunch. The aide said July 4 was the goal but “all this stuff is a moving target.” If there is overall consensus during Tuesday’s meeting, legislation will likely soon follow.

Last week’s PowerPoint presented a skeleton of ideas including more generous Medicaid funding than the bill that passed the House last month. Senators discussed phasing out Obamacare’s expanded Medicaid enrollment over seven years rather than the two-year timeline in the House bill, according to another GOP aide familiar with the plan. Senators were told that the goal would be to keep insurance companies from charging more for people with pre-existing conditions, a provision which was eliminated from the House bill — although the House bill did set aside money in the hope of offsetting higher costs.

Thune said the final bill would be submitted to CBO before it is shown to the public. The House approved their version of an Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill in May, weeks before getting an updated CBO score. CBO ultimately concluded the bill would lead to 23 million fewer American having health insurance by 2026.

Even if Republicans come up with a bill, the chances of it passing are still hazy. No Democrats are expected to vote to repeal former president Barack Obama’s signature health care legislation, and Republicans can’t lose more than two votes if they want to pass the bill. Already Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, have expressed concerns over the House bill’s blocking of federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Meanwhile, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, one of the Senate’s more conservative members, said Sunday he had some “grave concerns” about the direction the bill was going.

“It’s not yet clear what it is going to look like at the end of the day,” Lee told ABC’s This Week. “If we bring forward something that doesn’t repeal Obamacare and doesn’t bring down the health of health care that’s probably something I won’t be able to vote for.”

Democrats pounded Republicans for not being more transparent about the bill.

“What Senate Republicans are doing on health care is one of the most outrageous examples of legislative malpractice in decades,”  Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. announced on the Senate floor Monday afternoon. “It will not go down as a fine moment in history for (McConnell), for his party or for the Senate.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., tweeted a blank piece of paper that he said was the schedule of markups, hearings and public testimony the bill would go through.

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