Health care bill deadline looms while senators on both sides wait to see draft

Both Republicans and Democrats wait for a draft and say they will weigh in.

ByABC News
June 19, 2017, 3:23 PM

— -- While Senate Republican leaders say they plan to hold a vote on their health care bill by the end of the month, their rank-and-file members are still deeply divided over major parts of the legislation — and virtually none of them have seen a draft of the bill.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., voiced feelings many rank-and-file Republicans have about the process during a Sunday TV appearance. He said that he didn't have a problem with a small group working on the first draft but that "the Senate is not a place where you can just cook up something behind closed doors and rush it for a vote on the floor."

Most Senate Republicans have attended meetings to discuss the health care bill that have been open to all members, in order to register their views with leadership. But they have not yet seen a copy of the bill, which Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appears to be drafting on his own.

"Sooner or later, the leader has to pull it together," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told reporters Friday. Hatch is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, one of the panels with ostensible jurisdiction over the bill.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., a member of Senate leadership, insisted that Republicans were on track to meet their June deadline, pinning the responsibility for that vote on McConnell.

"Sen. McConnell said there'd be a vote," he told reporters. Asked whether that meant before July, Barrasso said, "That's what he said."

But it's not as easy as simply summarizing the priorities of the 52-member Senate Republican conference. The members are deeply divided on key issues, the most intractable of which seems to be the Obamacare expansion of Medicaid coverage. Republicans from states that accepted the expansion want a much more gradual rollback of the expansion. There are enough of those senators — including Ohio's Rob Portman, West Virginia's Shelley Moore Capito and Colorado's Cory Gardner — to tank the bill if the Medicaid language does not satisfy them.

In addition, leaders have committed to having the bill analyzed by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to assess its budgetary and real-world effects before they vote on it, which will push the vote date even later.

Rubio indicated that Senate Republicans will need to work on revising the bill together and that they won't simply accept and vote on McConnell's draft.

"Everyone's going to get to weigh in," he said Sunday. "And it's going to take — it's going to take days and weeks to work through that in the Senate."

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are planning to highlight the secrecy surrounding the bill, saying they will debate the issue "late into the evening" in a series of floor speeches Tuesday.

"Republicans are drafting this bill in secret because they're ashamed of it, plain and simple," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement. "These are merely the first steps we're prepared to take in order to shine a light on this shameful Trumpcare bill."

ABC's Ben Siegel contributed to this report.

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