By Alan Fram and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar / Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Cheered on by the White House, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is focusing on finding the votes he’ll need to push the Republican plan for dismantling President Barack Obama’s health care law through the Senate.
“No one knows the Senate better that Senator McConnell,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Friday on Fox News Channel’s “America’s Newsroom.” He said along with support from President Donald Trump, “I think we’re going to get this thing done, put it in conference and hopefully by the August recess really have Obamacare repealed and replaced.”
McConnell, R-Ky., released the bill Thursday after weeks of closed-door meetings searching for middle ground between conservative senators seeking an aggressive repeal of Obama’s statute and centrists warning about going too far.
McConnell wants to push the package through the Senate next week, and will succeed if he can limit defections to two of the chamber’s 52 Republicans. Erasing Obama’s law has been a marquee pledge for Trump and virtually the entire party for years, and failure would be a shattering defeat for the GOP.
Democrats were hoping to scare off as many Republican votes as possible by planning efforts around the country to criticize the measure. They say the GOP plan would mean fewer people with coverage and higher costs for many.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was urging Democrats to post stories on social media on constituents whose health care coverage would be threatened.
“No argument against Trumpcare is more eloquent than the grave consequences it means in people’s lives,” she wrote colleagues.
The bill would cut and redesign the Medicaid program for low-income and disabled people, and erase taxes on higher earners and the medical industry that helped pay for the roughly 20 million Americans covered by Obama’s law. It would let insurers provide fewer benefits, offer less generous subsidies than Obama to help people buy policies and end the statute’s tax penalties on people who don’t buy policies and on larger firms that don’t offer coverage to workers.
Shortly after the 142-page bill was distributed, more than a half-dozen GOP lawmakers signaled concerns or initial opposition.
Four conservative senators expressed opposition but openness to talks: Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. They said the measure missed delivering a GOP promise to Americans “to repeal Obamacare and lower their health care costs.”
In an interview with Fox News Channel, Trump was asked about the four conservatives opposing the bill. “Well, they’re also four good guys, four friends of mine, and I think that they’ll probably get there,” he said. “We’ll have to see.”
Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada, facing a competitive 2018 re-election battle, Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia expressed concerns about the bill’s cuts to Medicaid and drug addiction efforts.
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine reiterated her opposition to language blocking federal money for Planned Parenthood, which many Republicans oppose because it provides abortions. The bill would also bar using tax credits to buy coverage that includes abortions.
McConnell, eager to approve the legislation next week, indicated he was open to changes before it reaches the Senate floor, but he said it was time to act.
The House approved its version of the bill last month. Though Trump lauded its passage in a Rose Garden ceremony, he called the House measure “mean” last week.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said that under the House bill, 23 million fewer people would have coverage by 2026. The budget office analysis of the Senate measure is expected early next week.
The Senate bill would phase out extra money Obama’s law provides to 31 states that agreed to expand coverage under the federal-state Medicaid program. Those additional funds would continue through 2020, then gradually fall and disappear entirely in 2024.
The measure largely uses people’s incomes as the yardstick for helping those without workplace coverage to buy private insurance. That would focus the aid more on people with lower incomes than the House legislation, which bases its subsidies on age.
The bill would let states get waivers to ignore some coverage requirements under Obama’s law, such as specific health services insurers must now cover.