As expected, Democrats assailed the proposal as a draconian measure that would strip health insurance from millions all for the goal of providing tax cuts for the rich. They seized on comments that President Trump reportedly made to Republican senators in which he called the House proposal “mean.”
“Simply put: This bill will result in higher costs, less care, and millions of Americans will lose their health insurance, particularly through Medicaid,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer said. “It’s every bit as bad as the House bill; in some ways, it’s even worse.”
But the McConnell was never intended to appeal to Democrats. Instead, the majority leader and the Senate policy staffers who wrote the bill were trying to strike a delicate balance between conservatives bent on ripping up Obamacare and moderate Republican senators who, though they campaigned on repeal, now want to preserve its central benefits. Whether McConnell achieved that middle ground is unclear, as few Republican senators leapt to embrace his proposal in the immediate aftermath of its release. The first official holdouts to emerge were a group of four conservatives: Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.
“Currently, for a variety of reasons, we are not ready to vote for this bill, but we are open to negotiation and obtaining more information before it is brought to the floor,” they said in a joint statement. “There are provisions in this draft that represent an improvement to our current health care system, but it does not appear this draft as written will accomplish the most important promise that we made to Americans: to repeal Obamacare and lower their health care costs.”
Their statement was significant because together, their opposition alone could sink the bill given the GOP’s narrow, 52-48 majority in the Senate. But its careful wording left a lot of room for any or all of the conservatives to come around by the time the bill hits the floor next week. Paul, who has been a critic of the GOP approach for months, was more harsh in a pair of tweets he sent on his own. “The current bill does not repeal Obamacare. It does not keep our promises to the American people,” he wrote. Paul had long been considered a likely no vote, as it is unlikely McConnell could move the bill far enough to the right to get his support without losing moderates.
The draft will also face the test of whether its provisions pass muster under the Senate’s complex rules for budget reconciliation, which would allow Republican to circumvent a Democratic filibuster. Aides on Thursday acknowledged that “there will be ongoing discussions with the Parliamentarian” in the Senate about certain parts of the bill.
The Senate proposal targets abortion coverage by prohibiting the use of tax credits to buy insurance plans that cover the procedure, and it would ban funds from going to Planned Parenthood. Those provisions could jeopardize the support of two moderate Republicans, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who have said they oppose restricting federal funding to Planned Parenthood. A spokeswoman for Collins, Annie Clark, said Thursday she would be reviewing the bill into the weekend. “She has a number of concerns and will be particularly interested in examining the forthcoming CBO analysis on the impact on insurance coverage, the effect on insurance premiums, and the changes in the Medicaid program,” Clark said.