Senate Republicans plan to move past GOP-led healthcare debate
Top Senate Republicans are trying to move on from their partisan drive to replace Obamacare despite urging from President Donald Trump to keep seeking a broad alternative to President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch said Tuesday he sees little chance of further action on healthcare any time soon. Congressional efforts to address the Affordable Care Act’s flaws will need to be bipartisan after last week’s drive for a GOP-only replacement collapsed, he said.
“We’ve got to let it simmer for a while until we get both sides into a position where they see we’ve got to do something here,” said Hatch, a Utah Republican.
Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 Republican leader, said, “We’ve had our vote, and we are moving on to tax reform.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has been publicly silent on healthcare since Friday’s vote. His comments on the Senate floor Monday and Tuesday have focused instead on the need to confirm Federal Bureau of Investigation nominee Christopher Wray and pass bills on veterans’ benefits and the Food and Drug Administration before the Senate’s August recess.
The White House continues to seek action on a Republican-only health-care measure, giving particular focus to a proposal by Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. Their plan would send federal healthcare funds to states in the form of block grants, while keeping in place Obamacare’s mandates that all Americans have insurance and most employers provide it.
Trump met with Graham to discuss the idea just hours after GOP Senator John McCain of Arizona cast the decisive vote early Friday in the 49-51 rejection of a bare-bones repeal of Obamacare. Cassidy met at the White House Monday with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and four Republican governors, including Arizona’s Doug Ducey and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker.
“We need governors on the front end, not on the receiving end,” Cassidy told reporters hours after his meeting.
Bipartisan talks are expected on stabilizing Obamacare’s insurance markets upfront before Congress considers any longer-term changes.
Tuesday afternoon, Senate Health Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and the committee’s top Democrat, Patty Murray of Washington, jointly announced that the committee would hold hearings beginning the week of September 4 “on the actions Congress should take to stabilize and strengthen the individual health insurance market.”
The joint statement from the lawmakers said, “We will hear from state insurance commissioners, patients, governors, healthcare experts and insurance companies. Committee staff will begin this week working with all of our committee members to prepare for these hearings and discussions.”
Alexander said he wants Trump, in the meantime, to continue making federal cost-sharing subsidies to help low-income Americans buy coverage. The president has repeatedly threatened to halt such payments.
Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin of Illinois said Democrats also want to work after the August recess on a short-term measure to stabilize the insurance exchanges and continue cost-sharing subsidies. After that, something longer term would be needed, but he dismissed the idea that the Graham-Cassidy proposal is an easy answer to Obamacare’s challenges.
“I want to slow down this magic-pill theory, that there is just one idea out there that is going to solve it all,” Durbin said. “I don’t believe that. I want everybody to come up with their ideas. I think that’s how you get something constructive. But it isn’t just one thing, it isn’t just say, ‘Let’s send it all back to the states.’ ”
Second-ranking Senate Republican John Cornyn of Texas told reporters Monday that the GOP probably lacks the votes to bring anything to the floor because McCain is in Arizona undergoing treatment for brain cancer until at least September. McCain provided critical support to allow debate on an Obamacare replacement last week, despite his final “no” vote. “Everything is harder when you have people who are missing, and certainly that would have an effect,” Cornyn said.
The two other Republicans who voted with Democrats against the healthcare plan, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, told reporters that onlookers in airports cheered when they each arrived home after helping defeat the effort. Both are calling for bipartisanship and for committee hearings to debate further proposals.
“It’s just reinforced my desire to make sure that in these next steps we are open, that we are talking with everybody,” Murkowski said. She said she’s in no rush to push forward on the Graham-Cassidy plan or any other proposal. “Time should not be our enemy,” Murkowski said. “We’ve been treating it that way.”