Senate Leadership Presses Forward with Health Care Despite Conservative and Moderate Opposition

In this May 23, 2017, file photo, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., right, accompanied by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Republican effort to secretly craft a health care bill and whisk it through the Senate is striking, and it’s drawing fire from …
AP/Jacquelyn Martin

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will push forward with the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) Tuesday despite moderate and conservative opposition to the bill.

McConnell will have the Senate vote on Tuesday to proceed on the Senate healthcare bill and allow lawmakers to offer amendments to the BCRA to get the necessary support to pass the bill.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) explained, “That then comes to the Senate, and then we can vote, once we get on that bill, to amend it in various ways. And lots of members have different ideas on how it should be best amended to replace what is really a failing Obama healthcare plan.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), one of the Senate’s leading conservatives, chided the idea. Paul described the BCRA as a “pork fest” that would bail out health insurers and allow senators to add even more provisions to convince reluctant lawmakers to vote for the leadership’s bill.

Paul said he would only vote for the motion to proceed if the leadership also allows the Senate to vote on a straight repeal bill in the debate process.

The Senate leadership faces increasingly difficult chances of passing a healthcare bill through the Senate. McConnell can only afford to lose two senators, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking any tie in the upper chamber. Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) convalescence and his recent brain tumor diagnosis will leave one crucial vote from passing the BCRA, where moderate senators, such as Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), remain opposed to the BCRA’s cuts to Medicaid spending.

Susan Collins, who has opposed both a clean repeal of Obamacare and the BCRA, complained that the Senate does not know what exactly they will vote on tomorrow. “I don’t think that’s a good approach to facing legislation that affects millions of people and one-sixth of our economy,” Collins explained.

Conservative senators, such as Mike Lee (R-UT), oppose the BCRA for not repealing enough of Obamacare and blame the Senate leadership for watering down Sens. Cruz and Lee’s consumer freedom amendment allowing health insurers to offer Americans cheaper health insurance plans.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who supports opening the debate on the BCRA, remains concerned about the Senate leadership’s strategy to throw money at recalcitrant moderate senators.

“It’s feeling like a bazaar, like … we’re throwing money in a lot of different directions but potentially not moving in a place that’s coherent,” Corker said.

Last week, the Senate parliamentarian ruled that several provisions of the BCRA do not comply with reconciliation rules, although Sen. Cruz has argued that Vice President Mike Pence can overrule the parliamentarian’s counsel. FreedomWorks’ Jason Pye also claimed that the Senate can rewrite the measures to work with budgetary reconciliation.

President Trump recently tweeted that Republicans can soon vote to repeal and replace Obamacare:

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