There were several developments in the health care bill over the weekend. The emerging consensus for conservatives in the Senate seems to be if no compromise is workable, repeal Obamacare and then replace it with legislation that’s to be negotiated by having Congress work through the August recess.
However, Senators Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, are still fighting for an amendment to the Senate bill they say would successfully lower insurance premiums. The Consumer Freedom Amendment would permit health insurers to sell plans that don’t comply with Obamacare’s excessive and expensive regulations as long as these insurers offer at least one Obamacare-compliant insurance plan.
Speaking Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Senator Lee said this change to the Senate bill is necessary for the “forgotten” Americans.
"Look, this bill, the one we've been discussing in the Senate, has bailouts for insurance companies. It has hundreds of billions of dollars in tax relief for the affluent. It even has some provisions for the poor," Lee said.
"Who it leaves out are the forgotten man and the forgotten woman — those earning a combined household income of $75,000 or so who have been left behind," he said. "And these are the people who helped propel President Trump to victory last November. We need to do more to help them and to make sure they can purchase the kind of health care they want and the kind of health care that is affordable for their families."
The Consumer Freedom Act is the remedy for these forgotten Americans, Lee said.
"By guaranteeing them at least one Obamacare-compliant plan, we're guaranteeing them exactly what they have now but giving them more options. Options that would inevitably unleash free-market forces, that would in turn bring down the price of health care. That's what we want to do. As to those who would be on the Obamacare-compliant plan still, there are ways of funding those. There are ways of making sure that those don't go down into a downward spiral.”
A top White House official seemingly endorsed the Cruz proposal. “We hope it’s part of the process of bringing everybody together,” White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short said on Fox News Sunday.
This doesn’t seem to be the case, however. While Republicans in the Senate remain bitterly divided over health care reform, the vast majority of the conference refuses to enact any proposal that touches Obamacare’s pre-existing conditions regulations. As one Senate GOP aide put it, "No matter how narrowly-proposed, wading into pre-ex is not just a 'No,' it's a 'Hell No' for the vast majority of the Senate GOP."
If compromise remains out of reach, other conservatives want to see a two-step repeal-and-replace plan adopted.
"If Leader McConnell can get us across the finish line in a combined repeal and replace, I'd like to see that happen," Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said in an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN's "State of the Union."
"It needs to be a good replace. But if we can do a combined repeal and replace over the next week, that's great. If we can't, though, then there's no reason to walk away. We should do repeal with a delay. Let's be clear: I don't want to see anybody thrown off the coverage they have now; I would want to delay so that we can get straight to work."
Last week, Senator Sasse sent a letter to President Trump urging the administration to push for a vote on H.R. 3762 – the Obamacare repeal legislation every GOP senator voted for in 2015 – with a year-long delay to give Americans time to adjust and the GOP time to work on a compromise replacement legislation. Senator Sasse also suggested that Congress work through the August recess to craft an Obamacare replacement bill to be voted on before Labor Day.
Calls to cancel the August recess were started last month by the House Freedom Caucus. Since then, 10 Republican senators issued a similar call to cancel the August recess in a letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Friday.
"We are united in our belief that we must work with a sense of urgency to deliver conservative solutions for pressing legislative issues on behalf of the American people," wrote the senators, arguing that, with the Senate calendar containing only 33 potential working days before the end of the fiscal year, "This does not appear to give us enough time to adequately address the issues that demand immediate attention."
"Therefore we respectfully request that you consider truncating, if not completely foregoing, the scheduled August state work period, allowing us more time to complete our work," said the letter, which was led by Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.
The signers of this letter include Sens. Steve Daines, R-Mont., Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, John Kennedy, R-La., James Lankford, R-Okla., Mike Lee, R- Utah, Mike Rounds, R-S.D., Luther Strange, R-Ala., Dan Sullivan, R-Ala., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C.
Twelve members of the House of Representatives made the same request to Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.
Even with the extra time in August, it is difficult to see how Republicans will resolve their fundamental differences on Obamacare repeal. Most GOP members of Congress agree that Obamacare has made health insurance unaffordable for too many Americans while reducing consumer options. Yet the moderate faction refuses to repeal the back-breaking Obamacare regulations.
True health care reform that will both lower prices and expand access to insurance coverage means removing government interference in health care. As long as any faction of the Republicans’ slim legislative majority is opposed to getting government out of the way, workable health care reform will be unachievable.
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