Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is ready to start over with the health care debate. John McCain is back home indefinitely in Arizona fighting brain cancer.
Republicans can only lose two votes and still pass their embattled health bill, with several other Republicans undecided over whether to proceed. Even so, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky says the Senate will vote early next week on, well, something related to health care.
Collins said Thursday she has “no idea” what that will be.
The party has lurched in recent days between giving up on changing the Affordable Care Act and restarting talks over a new Trump administration proposal aimed at winning over moderates. Next week could be a key test over whether Republicans have any chance at delivering on their seven years of promises.
Almost all Republicans still say they want to get to “yes.” But that path has remained stubbornly elusive, as the GOP confronts estimates that its bill will leave millions more Americans without health insurance.
“If you’re still going to take more than $700 billion out of the Medicaid program, I still have significant problems,” Collins said.
Conservatives are still pushing for a more complete repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and are happy to push ahead with McConnell’s break-glass-in-case-of-emergency plan to repeal many of the tax- and revenue-related provisions in the act with a two-year delay.
“I’ve been advocating that we repeal Obamacare — all of it,” Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, said this week.
Whether that vote can succeed remains in doubt as negotiations continue on a replacement.
Senate Republicans weren’t helped by a Congressional Budget Office analysis Thursday that found McConnell’s latest proposal would cause 22 million Americans to lose their health insurance in a decade, the same as his last plan that didn’t gather enough support. The nonpartisan budget office also found that the Senate bill, called the Better Care Reconciliation Act, would raise costs for many people with private coverage and slash Medicaid spending.
At the same time, the CBO said the Senate bill cuts the U.S. budget deficit by $420 billion by 2016, an increase from $321 billion forecast under the previous version of the bill. That could provide GOP leaders added funds to bump up health expenditures and attract support of some moderate holdouts.
Talks continue over possible changes, with more than 20 undecided Republicans attending a Wednesday night meeting with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, and conversations continued with McConnell Thursday. Holdouts include Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Mike Lee of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Jerry Moran of Kansas.