In statements echoed by President Trump on Twitter, two prominent Republican senators have called for the GOP to skip the health care overhaul and focus on simple repeal of Obamacare if Republican Senate leadership cannot find 50 votes to move the current health care reform bill forward. Earlier this week, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that a vote on the health care bill would be delayed until after the July 4 recess.
In a letter to the White House quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said, “On the current path it looks like Republicans will either fail to pass any meaningful bill at all, or will instead pass a bill that looks to prop up many of the crumbling Obama care structures.”
“We must keep our word,” Sasse continued. “Therefore, if on July 10 we don’t have agreement on a combined repeal and replace plan, we should immediately vote again on… the December 2015 Obamacare repeal legislation that the Congress passed but President Obama vetoed.”
Within a few minutes of Sen. Sasse’s discussion of re-introducing the 2015 bill, HR 3762, President Trump tweeted support for the idea. “If Republican Senators are unable to pass what they are working on now, they should immediately REPEAL, and then REPLACE at a later date!” Trump said on Twitter.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also endorsed the idea. “I have spoken to @realDonaldTrump & Senate leadership about this and agree. Let’s keep our word to repeal then work on replacing right away,” Paul tweeted.
The 2015 bill in question, HR 3762, was not technically a full repeal of Obamacare either since it also amended the Affordable Care Act rather than repealing it outright. A full repeal would require 60 votes for cloture in the Senate, which is far out of reach. The bill passed the Senate in a largely party line vote on December 3, 2015 by a 52-47 margin.
Sasse has not suggested a strategy for passing a 2017 version of the bill. The problem for Republicans on passage of the current health care reform bill is that nine Republican senators are reportedly in opposition to the bill. Assuming no Democrats cross the aisle, Republicans could lose no more than two senators and still be able to pass the bill.
The current Republican opposition to the health care reform is from both the center and the right wings of the GOP. Moderate Republicans such as Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) argue that the bill hurts too many people on Medicaid in their states while conservatives such as Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) say that the bill does not go far enough in reforming Obamacare. With eroding support from both ends of Republican political spectrum, the current bill has little chance of passage.
Sasse’s plan to revive the 2015 bill is a partial answer in that it should bring the conservatives back on board. The problem is that Republicans would still need moderate votes to move the bill forward.
When the bill originally passed in 2015, Republicans held two more seats in the Senate than they do today. Back then, two Republicans crossed party lines to vote against the bill: Susan Collins and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). Kirk lost his seat to Democrat Tammy Duckworth in 2016, but Collins is still in the Senate and could be counted on to vote against the bill once again. That leaves Republicans with a one vote margin.
Earlier this year, The Resurgent reported that four Republican senators who had voted for the 2015 bill would refuse to vote for a bill that did not allow a slow phase out of the Obamacare Medicaid expansion. If Shelly Moore-Capito (R-W.V.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Corey Gardner (R-Col.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) stick to their pledge, it would doom Sasse’s plan.
Still, a deficit of five votes is a more surmountable obstacle than the deficit of nine votes that the GOP currently faces. It is possible that pressure could be brought to bear on the four senators who previously voted for the bill that would keep them in the “yes” column.
An additional risk would be with the reform that still must come after the passage of the near-repeal. Democrats might be persuaded to join the reform effort if most of Obamacare was gutted, but they might also adopt a you-break-it-you-bought-it policy that would allow them to campaign against the Republican-created chaos in the health care markets in 2018 and beyond. Given recent Democrat obstructionism, there is little doubt which course they would take.
Still, as the Republican health care reform seems increasingly dead in the water, Sasse’s plan, long shot that it is, may be the only viable option to keep the GOP promise to repeal and replace Obamacare.