While former FBI Director James Comey captivated the country calling President Trump a liar, Senate Republicans quietly and behind closed doors continued to cut deals to make Trumpcare the law of the land by the end of the summer.
Three Republican Senators who have been resistant to supporting the health care bill — Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, and Dean Heller of Nevada — came together this week on a potential amendment that would address their concerns about cutting Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. That expansion extended coverage to 11 to 12 million people in 31 states including Ohio, West Virginia, and Nevada.
The proposed deal would provide a “significant glidepath” in Medicaid cuts by phasing out the expansion over seven years, Portman said. He also indicated the number of years was open to negotiation, saying “we’ll see where we end up.” While it is still unclear what the final bill will be, it will almost certainly result in tens of millions of fewer people with health insurance while cutting many of Obamacare’s taxes.
The proposed amendment has not been widely adopted yet and it’s possible that it could alienate conservative Senators like Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky who see it as an expensive entitlement that gives health care to able-bodied Americans. But the concrete proposal from these three Senators indicates that the Republicans are closing in on their long-stated goal of repealing and replacing President Obama’s controversial healthcare law.
As Trump’s other stated policy goals of a tax code rewrite and an enormous infrastructure overhaul have been delayed and subject to internal disagreements, Trumpcare has increasingly become the major piece of legislation that Republicans have the best chance of passing before the 2018 midterm elections. Republican aides on Capitol Hill privately say that members of Congress do not want to run for reelection without having passed a significant agenda item.
If the Senate passes a bill in the next month, as they reportedly would like to do, they then must negotiate a compromise with the House of Representatives and pass the bill again. While many steps remain and the bills path is uncertain, Democrats are beginning to believe that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — whom some liberal operatives depict as an evil genius — might pull it off. They point to McConnell’s quick moves after Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016 that prevented Obama from appointing a replacement for the last 10 months of his presidency.
“[McConnell] will always find a way, but instead of helping people, he uses his powers to do bad things,” tweeted Adam Jentleson, who served as former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s deputy chief of staff. “McConnell is the GOP’s mutant Reid,” he added.
Part of McConnell’s strategy has been to keep the negotiations as secret as possible in a city full of loose lips. The media and large swathes of the public have been transfixed by every twist and turn of the Trump-Russia investigation, especially after Trump abruptly fired Comey on May 9. McConnell meanwhile has a working group of 13 Senators — all men — steadily and surreptitiously haggling to reach a consensus on Obamacare. There have been no public hearings on the legislation.
On the Finance Committee on Thursday, which held many hearings on Obamacare in 2009, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri confronted Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah about the lack of transparency and asked: “Will there be a hearing on the health care proposal?”
Hatch didn’t say yes.
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