(Bloomberg) — Passage of H.R. 1628, the House’s health care bill, gives the Obamacare change effort new life after months of wrangling, but key Republican senators are already pushing it aside to write their own bill with no clear timetable to act.
The narrowly passed House measure can’t get anywhere near the 51 votes needed as is, even though Republican senators insist they’re united on delivering on their seven-year vow to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Instead, they want to write their own bill.
Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who chairs the Senate health committee, Rob Portman of Ohio, and Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of GOP leadership, described the plan even as the House was celebrating passing its repeal after weeks of back-and-forth.
“We’ll write our own bill,” Alexander said in an interview, although he said senators would consider pieces of the House bill. “Where they’ve solved problems we agree with, that makes it a lot easier for us.”
The decision will delay the prospect of any repeal bill reaching President Donald Trump’s desk. Before the failure of the House bill in March, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had talked of taking it up and passing it in a week.
A senior White House official said the administration is ready for a slower, more deliberative debate in the Senate, where the main sticking point is expected to be how to address Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid.
The House bill, which squeaked through the House on a 217-213 vote Thursday, became an even tougher proposition for the Senate with changes made in recent weeks to win over conservatives. Those revisions raised potential procedural hurdles, and also sparked new Republican concerns over how the measure would affect coverage of people with pre-existing conditions.
“If any senator’s got a better idea, I wish them well,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana told MSNBC on Friday. “What they’re going to find is you have to find consensus. We put 217 votes on the board and it took weeks and weeks to do it because everybody’s got good ideas. Some of them don’t work for other people.”
Suddenly, Senate Republicans are doing their best to downplay expectations for quick action on the ACA.
Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said it will take weeks or maybe months for the Senate to develop a plan because many lawmakers in the chamber haven’t yet engaged on the issue.
“There hasn’t been any health care discussion over here,” Grassley said.
End of the Year
Vice President Mike Pence tipped to that notion on Sunday, when he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he hoped a final version from Congress would get to the president to sign “before the end of the year.”
Grassley also said the Senate GOP’s goal should be to attract some Democratic support, even though Republicans are trying to use expedited measures that would allow the bill to pass with only 51 votes.
“As I said with Obamacare, anything that affects so many people and such a big part of the economy should have a solution that can attract bipartisanship,” he said. “Obamacare didn’t achieve that.”
Democrats will negotiate only “if this is about improvements, repairs, reforms, advances” to ACA, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, the party’s vice presidential candidate in 2016, told CNN on Friday. “If it’s just about politics,” he added, “no, we’re not going to participate in slashing health care for millions just to give tax cuts to the richest.”
Alexander, whose Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will have a major role in drafting the Senate version, is beginning to lay out his objectives for the eventual measure.
‘Go to Work On It’