Senate Republican leaders have not given up on their health-care bill, after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) delayed a planned vote for this week until after the July 4 recess. McConnell and his lieutenants are trying to find changes that will bring at least 50 of the 52 Senate Republicans in line on the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), and one tool they are using is money. Monday's Congressional Budget Office score sent some Republicans running for cover, but it also gave McConnell $188 billion he could spend winning over members of his caucus.
Even before pulling the bill from an imminent floor vote, McConnell was considering channeling some of that pot of cash to health savings accounts, to win over conservative holdouts like Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Mike Lee (Utah), Politico reports, while more moderate Republicans from states that expanded Medicaid under ObamaCare lobbied for shallower cuts to Medicaid and more money to fight opioid addiction. Tuesday was supposed to be "all about side deals," a Senate aide told Politico, though McConnell clearly did not reach such deals with enough senators as of Tuesday night.
McConnell's other move on Tuesday was to gather his entire GOP caucus at the White House, where President Trump listened to the concerns of GOP senators, sitting between two key holdouts, Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska). Last week, senior political appointees at the Labor Department and Homeland Security Departments ordered staffers to write up a rule that would allow more H-2B temporary foreign work visas, "specifically mentioning innkeepers and fisheries in Maine and Alaska," Pro Publica reports, citing "three people with knowledge of the discussions." Collins and Murkowski have been pushing for more H-2B visas for their states for months, ahead of the peak summer season, to no avail.
No political officials directly tied the expedited visa rule to the BCRA, and a spokeswoman for Collins insisted, "There is no link — and there has been no attempt to link — this issue with the health-care bill." But staffers were concerned enough about the legal and ethical ramifications of tailoring the H-2B policy to fit two specific states that they pushed back. "It's not appropriate to pick and choose [which state or industry] should be winners and losers," said Laurie Flanagan at the H2-B Workforce Coalition. You can read more about foreign work visas and health-care politics at Pro Publica. Peter Weber
At a Senate Republican meeting at the White House on Tuesday, President Trump got an earful about a brutal ad campaign an allied super PAC, America First Policies, has been running against Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who is up for re-election next year in a state carried by Hillary Clinton, The New York Times reports, citing a senator and another person present at the meeting. Heller was one of the first Republicans to say he couldn't support the Senate GOP health-care bill as written. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had already complained about the ads, reportedly telling White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus they were "beyond stupid."
"The move against Mr. Heller had the blessing of the White House, according to an official with America First, because Mr. Trump's allies were furious that the senator would side with Nevada's governor, Brian Sandoval, a Republican who accepted the Medicaid expansion under the health law and opposes the Republican overhaul, in criticizing the bill," the Times reports. "According to the senator, the president laughed good-naturedly at the complaint and signaled that he had received the message." After the meeting, America First said it was pulling its promised seven-figure attack campaign against Heller, congratulating Heller for coming "back to the table."
On Tuesday evening, Heller held an event with constituents over the telephone. Jon Ralston, editor of The Nevada Independent, live-tweeted it. Heller praised Sandoval's decision to accept ObamaCare's expansion of Medicaid in the state, argued that former President Ronald Reagan wouldn't have supported the Senate GOP health-care bill, said McConnell couldn't count on his vote for the bill after the July 4 break, then dropped this reference to The Godfather, according to Ralston: "It's going to be very difficult to get me to a yes ... have to make us an offer we can't refuse, me and the governor."
— Alex Burns (@alexburnsNYT) June 28, 2017
If Trump comes after Heller again, maybe he can drop the talk of severed horse heads and draw inspiration from Michael Corleone's conversation with a fictional Nevada senator, Pat Geary, in The Godfather Part II, though presumably with a less bloody enforcement mechanism.
At least one GOP senator is pretty sure Trump doesn't understand the basics of the GOP health-care bill
When President Trump, a month after effusively praising a House Republican health-care bill, dismissed it as too "mean" last week, some people began to suspect that Trump was more interested in getting a legislative victory than in the policy details of the victorious legislation. "I don't know that he ever understood exactly what the provisions of ObamaCare were, or what we're trying to accomplish in our health system today for more affordable quality care," Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said on MSNBC Tuesday, after Nicole Wallace asked what specific ObamaCare policies Trump actually opposed.
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) June 27, 2017
Before he delayed a vote on the Senate GOP plan to replace ObamaCare Tuesday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) asked Trump to invite all 52 Senate Republicans to the White House for a meeting on the legislation. When reporters asked McConnell outside the West Wing if he believed Trump had command of the details of the health-care negotiations, "McConnell ignored the question and smiled blandly," The New York Times reports. Trump has been pretty hands-off in the Senate health-care talks, at McConnell's request, so only a few senators had interacted with Trump on the legislation before Tuesday's meeting, the Times says, setting up this anecdote:
A senator who supports the bill left the meeting at the White House with a sense that the president did not have a grasp of some basic elements of the Senate plan — and seemed especially confused when a moderate Republican complained that opponents of the bill would cast it as a massive tax break for the wealthy, according to an aide who received a detailed readout of the exchange. Mr. Trump said he planned to tackle tax reform later. [The New York Times]
About 45 percent of the tax benefits from the Senate bill would go to the top 1 percent of U.S. households by income — those earning $875,000 a year and upwards would get a $45,500 annual tax cut, and the top 0.1 percent would pocket an average tax cut of $250,000 by 2026 — according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center. The middle class would get a 0.4 percent raise in after-tax income, the analysis found, versus a 2 percent bump for the top 1 percent. You can read how the Senate GOP bill stacks up to Trump's health-care promises at The Week. Peter Weber
David Jolly won a special House election in Florida in 2014 as a staunch critic of the Affordable Care Act, but then lost his seat to Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) in November. On Monday night, he told MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell that when he was unexpectedly unemployed in January, with a pre-existing condition, he realized that he was glad ObamaCare was the law of the land.
"While I ultimately chose a private-sector plan, I also knew in 2017, ObamaCare provided an exchange that was a safety net that wasn't there before," he said. "And that's why the politics of ObamaCare in 2017 are different than in 2013. I lost my doctor and I lost my plan in 2013, and I was angry about ObamaCare, and I ran for Congress. But in 2017, as an unemployed person with a pre-existing condition, I knew ObamaCare was there as a safety net if me and my wife needed it."
— The Last Word (@TheLastWord) June 27, 2017
Jolly apparently isn't alone in his newfound appreciation, if not love, for the 2010 law. In its latest ObamaCare tracking poll, released Friday, the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that 51 percent of U.S. adults had a favorable opinion of the law, "the first month that favorability has tipped over the 50 percent mark since Kaiser Family Foundation began tracking attitudes on the law in 2010," while the GOP replacement plan has become increasingly unpopular, with 55 percent disapproving versus 30 percent who approve. Senate GOP leaders hope to pass their replacement plan as early as this week, after the House GOP passed its version in May.
Also on MSNBC Monday night, GOP strategist Steve Schmidt and host Chris Hayes puzzled over why Republicans are not making a public case for their ObamaCare replacement bill, with the Senate version written behind closed doors before its rush toward a floor vote. Watch below. Peter Weber
McConnell allies give him better-than-even odds of getting his GOP health-care bill passed this week
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wants the Senate to pass his health-care bill this week, before the July 4 break, and the next couple of days will be a test of his strategy to craft a major overhaul of the U.S. health-care system in secret and spring it on the Senate with no public hearings. He can afford to lose only two Republicans, and five have said they won't vote yes on the current version of the bill, with at least three others expressing strong reservations. Republican senators began listing their demands over the weekend.
McConnell's former chief of staff Josh Holmes compared his former boss' week to "a 747 landing on a suburban driveway," but one current McConnell staffer tells Jonathan Swan at Axios that McConnell has a 60 percent shot of passing the bill. Still, "most folks I've talked to in McConnell's orbit say it's more like a jump ball," Swan says, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is in that camp, telling ABC News This Week on Sunday that Republicans "have, at best, a 50-50 chance of passing this bill," odds he attributed to the "devastating" effects of the proposed legislation.
McConnell has some levers he will pull, however, and "Senate leaders have been trying to lock down Republican votes by funneling money to red states, engineering a special deal for Alaska, and arguing that they could insure more people at a lower cost than the House, which passed a repeal bill last month," The New York Times reports. The Chamber of Commerce supports the bill, but opposing it is a motley group that includes the Koch brothers organization Americans for Prosperity, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, medical groups, some Republican governors, and most of the health-care industry.
Senate GOP Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Sunday that the bill is on track for a Wednesday procedural vote, and possible passage late Thursday or early Friday, "but it's going to be close." Speaking at a Colorado retreat hosted by Charles Koch, Cornyn said that even if McConnell doesn't get a vote this week, the legislation is hardly dead. "I think August is the drop-dead line, about Aug. 1," he said. Axios' Swan said McConnell actually does need to pass the bill before the July 4 break, because "no senator I've spoken to thinks a bit of extra time spent with angry voters will make them more likely to support this bill." Peter Weber
House Republicans are pretty upset with Trump for trashing the health-care bill he pushed them to pass
President Trump threw himself into prodding the House to pass the American Health Care Act, then rewarded House Republicans with effusive praise at a White House ceremony directly after they pushed through the health-care overhaul with the narrowest of margins. So Trump's widely reported comments to Senate Republicans that the House version of the bill is "mean" and lacking in generosity bruised some feelings. Trump's comments are "having a lingering, and potentially devastating, effect on his credibility among House Republicans," reports Jonathan Swan at Axios. "Members are still talking about Trump's comment, and their frustration that he'd throw them under the bus is likely to damage his ability to negotiate on major items like infrastructure and tax reform."
Democrats are apparently rubbing salt in the wounds, with one Ways and Means Committee member ribbing GOP colleagues that Trump now agrees with the Democrats about their bill. Trump lobbied them an incredible amount, pushing them to gamble with an unpopular vote, one Republican tells Swan, so "for him to turn around and do this, it's stunning. I can't believe it." Peter Weber
On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell formally began a process to bypass committee hearings and send a Senate Republican health-care bill directly to the floor for a vote by the July 4 recess, Tierney Sneed reports at Talking Points Memo. Republicans are writing their version of the House GOP's American Health Care Act in secret, and they emerged from a meeting on Tuesday more optimistic that they will have a plan that can attract at least 50 of 52 Republican votes, enough to pass the bill under budget reconciliation rules. On Tuesday, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wy.) said that the Senate parliamentarian cleared the House version of the AHCA to be considered under reconciliation, removing one obstacle for Republicans.
Senate Republicans plan to submit a preliminary framework of their health-care plan to the Congressional Budget Office by the end of the week, which would allow a floor vote by the end of June, Politico reports. If they pass a health-care bill, it would be merged with the House version in a conference committee, and both chambers would have to vote again on the package that emerged. There was some speculation that McConnell would put up a vote on a bill he thought would fail, just to move on to other legislative priorities, but Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said no, "he sure as hell doesn't want to do that." Republicans are "in the back seat with Thelma and Louise and we need to get out of the car," he said. "So details matter, but we need to get out of the car. That was the pre-eminent message." Peter Weber
Rep. Tom MacArthur met with livid constituents for the first time since he resuscitated the GOP health bill
Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) held his first town hall on Wednesday night since his amendment on pre-existing conditions revived the GOP health-care bill, leading to its passage in the House. He took questions from his constituents for nearly five hours in Willingboro, and it was not a friendly crowd — not that he'd expected it to be. Before the town hall, his office had noted that Willingboro is 73 percent black and had only given him 12 percent of its vote last fall, points he reiterated during the town hall.
MacArthur fielded a series of questions about President Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey (he said he wasn't in favor of an independent investigation, yet, but he also said "I didn't come here to defend the president tonight"), but most of his constituents wanted to talk about health care. Many of them blamed him for, as one man put it, bringing the American Health Care Act "back from death." One woman shouted, "My blood will be on your hands," and when MacArthur said he was happy that ObamaCare expanded insurance coverage but "I'm looking at an insurance market that is collapsing," a man yelled out, "That's because you drilled holes in it!" There were a lot of calls for switching to a single-payer system.
Another constituent noted the AHCA includes big cuts to Medicaid and slightly bigger tax cuts that primarily benefit the super wealthy, giving as an example the $37,000 a year MacArthur, a former insurance executive, would save under the law. MacArthur disagreed with the assessment of the bill. "This isn't tax cuts for the rich — this is tax cuts for everybody!" he said, explaining that it zeroes out taxes and income on profits from stock investments. You can get a flavor of what The Washington Post's David Weigel called the "toxic" environment in the CNN report below. Peter Weber