Senate To Turn into Three-Ring Circus Over Health Care Legislation

More Capitol Hill drama as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pressing for a vote before the July 4 break on an Obamacare replacement, as fellow Republicans balk at the lack of any pubic process, hearings or debate and Democrats gird to shut down Senate business. Photo Credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

More Capitol Hill drama as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pressing for a vote before the July 4 break on an Obamacare replacement, as fellow Republicans balk at the lack of any pubic process, hearings or debate and Democrats gird to shut down Senate business.

Photo Credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

You can exhale because there shouldn't be any Capitol Hill activity this week on President Trump and possible collusion in Russia. But take a deep breath as the Senate moves toward a highly contentious and audacious pre-July 4 vote on a health care bill that still hasn’t seen the light of day.

Senate GOP leaders reaffirmed plans to bring forward an Obamacare replacement measure in the next two weeks as Senate Democrats promised to bring all legislative action to a screeching halt, starting with talk-a-thon Monday night to list the deplorable provisions anticipated in the still-secret Republican bill.

Reports circulating on the Hill indicate there isn’t a consensus among Senate Republicans on key issues such as the level of Medicaid spending, addressing the national epidemic of opioid addiction and lowering health insurance premiums under the new plan for patients with pre-existing conditions. Senate GOP leaders have implied the bill, being drafted by a small workgroup behind closed doors, will get a vote whether or note there are enough votes for it to pass.

A website carried an elaborate explanation of how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might even might manage to limit floor debate when the GOP health care bill emerges from the work group. According to the explanation, McConnell could put a placeholder bill on the Senate floor calendar and let it suck up most of the 20 hours of allowable debate time. The real plan would be introduced as an amendment with little time left for a drawn-out floor debate.

Whatever the procedural strategy is, criticism is building for addressing contentious and emotionally charged health care legislation without a public hearing. The House, before it narrowly passed its version of an Obamacare replacement, didn’t hold any public hearings. It did come to the floor our of House committees, however, which apparently won’t be the case in the Senate under the current legislative scenario.

The secretive bill-writing strategy probably relates to the unpopularity of what the House passed, as reflected in public opinion polls and in raucous town hall meetings held by GOP lawmakers who voted for the bill. Trump, who initially praised the House bill, has since called it “mean" and urged senators to be more “generous.”

It doesn’t appear all Senate Republicans, including Florida Senator Marco Rubio, is on board with rushing a health care bill through a floor vote without any hearings and little debate. However, Senate GOP leaders are telling fellow Republican caucus members, this may be the one and only chance to vote to repeal Obamacare – a promise seven years in the making – before moving on to other legislative priorities.

Unlike the House, Senate Republicans want to have their heath care bill scored by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office before a floor vote. Reportedly, pieces of the new legislation have already been shared with CBO, though no results have been disclosed.

Democrats are doubtful that whatever emerges will be generous enough. They are hatching their own procedural strategies, including objecting to all requests to proceed with business on the Senate floor that requires unanimous consent or 60 votes to continue. Another tactic will be an attempt to force the referral of the House-passed American Health Care Act to a Senate committee.

Both sides will be frequently in front of microphones at press conferences and active on social media. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren held a Facebook Live event to whip up opposition. Other Obamacare repeal opponents are urging a flood of emails and other constituent communications to sweep into Senate GOP offices.

Last week, Vox ran a story based on interviews with eight Senate GOP senators in which none of them seemed to have a glimmer of an idea what was in the Republican health care plan or the policy rationale for the provisions they couldn’t articulate. Those may be hard perceptions to shake if the Senate springs its health care bill for a vote with little notice and virtually no debate.