Senate Republican leaders announced September 26 that their latest Affordable Care Act replacement bill will not receive a vote before the fiscal 2017 reconciliation instructions expire at week’s end, but one of the bill’s sponsors has promised that the measure will be revisited.
“We’re coming back to this after taxes,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., cosponsor of what has been dubbed the Graham-Cassidy proposal. “We’re going to have time to explain our concept.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also told reporters that Republicans haven’t given up on healthcare but that “it’s time to turn to our twin priority — reforming the tax code.”
The Graham-Cassidy proposal would keep many of the ACA’s revenues intact to fund a new block grant program that would give states money to develop their own healthcare systems. It includes a repeal of the medical device excise tax beginning in 2018, a retroactive repeal of the individual and employer mandates, and several expansions to health savings accounts.
Graham said that with “a new process” that includes additional hearings and regular order, he’s confident the measure will pass with 50 votes. “There are 50 votes for the substance,” Graham said. “There are not 50 votes for the process.”
The bill was pulled from consideration a day after Sen. Susan M. Collins, R-Maine, announced that she couldn’t support it. She was the fourth Republican senator to express opposition to the legislation, after Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, John McCain of Arizona, and Ted Cruz of Texas. In addition, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, was on the fence about whether to support the bill.
Graham referred reporters to a statement Murkowski posted to Twitter and on her website saying that Graham and Cassidy “have run up against a hard deadline and a lousy process.” The Senate can’t get the text of a bill and vote on it days later with only a single hearing, she said in her statement.
“She probably is the best indication of where a lot of people are,” Graham said of Murkowski.
However, Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., told reporters that the bill is “dead as a doornail” and that Republicans still have divisions to work through. “I’m not saying that taxes are easy, but healthcare’s a very, very personal decision,” he said. “And it’s a fifth of our economy. There’s a wide disagreement in our caucus about what a bill like that ought to contain.”
Like McConnell, Kennedy said it’s time for Republicans to work on tax reform legislation. Some Republican senators, including Paul, floated the idea September 25 of including healthcare reform with tax reform in fiscal 2018 reconciliation instructions.
But Senate Finance Committee member John Thune, R-S.D., said September 26 that pairing tax reform with healthcare reform would be “really hard to do.”
“I think tax reform is going to kind of have to ride on its own. We’ve got a lot invested in that already, and I think confusing those issues might make it complicated for both,” Thune told reporters. “And the other thing is, until we have 50 [votes] for . . . some sort of healthcare reform that repeals and replaces Obamacare, I don’t anticipate that we’ll probably be picking it up again.”
House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said that he wouldn’t be in favor of pairing healthcare reform with tax reform except under specific conditions.
“Since we have fumbled at least twice now on healthcare . . . I wouldn’t be in favor unless we can keep it on parallel tracks as part of the reconciliation instructions where you could pass tax reform without the repeal and replacement of Obamacare,” Meadows said at a Conversations With Conservatives event. A fiscal 2019 reconciliation bill also could serve as a vehicle for healthcare legislation, he said.
Stephen K. Cooper and Asha Glover contributed to this article.
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