Senate Republicans will finally release a draft of their secretive health bill that has been crafted behind closed doors on Thursday. A vote could take place next week, moving Republicans one step closer to repealing and replacing Obamacare.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell confirmed in a press conference Tuesday that the draft would be circulated Thursday, after several Republican senators laid out the timeline to reporters earlier in the day.
The full text of the bill will be released after the Congressional Budget Office releases its assessment of how the Senate's plan would affect costs and coverage for Americans, McConnell added. A CBO score is likely to come early next week.
Sens. Bob Corker, Orrin Hatch and Mike Rounds told reporters Tuesday that the draft would emerge Thursday and hope to hold a vote next week.
A McConnell spokesman later confirmed that the draft would be made public.
Several senators said on Tuesday that they still had not seen the bill, and could not comment on whether they will support it. The timeline sets up a whirlwind few days, which would likely see the CBO score early next week, followed by a Senate vote shortly afterward.
The question on everybody’s lips is whether Republicans have the votes — they’ll need 50 to pass their health plan through the Senate, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking the tie. There’s a fair amount of evidence that they do not — at least not yet.
Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have expressed major concerns about the bill going too far in rolling back Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, revoking federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and removing protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s state of West Virginia has been particularly ravaged by opioid addiction, and leans heavily on services provided through Medicaid. Capito could also be a holdout, although she has kept the door open to supporting the bill.
On the other side of the debate, Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah have argued the bill does not go far enough. Paul did not sound on Tuesday like he was prepared to vote for the bill. He criticized the subsidies in the GOP plan as being as bad as, or worse than, Obamacare's, and said he did not believe the Republican plan would bring down premiums.
“I think the death spiral of Obamacare continues,” said Paul. “The Republican plan doesn’t fix that, the Republican plan just subsidizes it.”
But what happens if Senate leadership comes to Paul with a bill he doesn’t like but that is one vote short, leaving Paul to either vote for the Republican plan or keep Obamacare? Paul wasn’t interested in indulging that scenario.
“We will debate over what’s in the bill and see if we can shift the bill to our liking,” he said.
Republican senators have been meeting behind closed doors for weeks to hash out a health plan. Unlike in the House, where their health bill went through committee hearings and some very public negotiations, the talks have been overwhelmingly secretive on the Senate side. The plan will not go through the committee study process.
Corker said that despite talk of committees being involved, the bill is ultimately being crafted by McConnell.
“The leader is really writing this bill,” he said. “I mean, we can say the Finance committee is, we can say the Budget committee is, we can say the HELP committee is, but the leader’s office is writing the bill, and what they’re trying to do is, I’m sure, attempt to hit the sweet spot in those differences that exist.”
If Senate Republicans are able to pass their bill next week, it would then go back to the House, where the Senate bill and the House’s American Health Care Act would need to be reconciled before being sent to President Trump’s desk.
Democrats have complained, loudly, about the Republicans' secretive process, including holding the Senate floor on Monday night for hours asking for Republicans to agree to put the bill through committee, where Democrats would have a voice in shaping it.
McConnell said Tuesday he found those arguments "laughable," given the fact that Senate Democrats initially wrote their Obamacare bill behind closed doors as well. "We know they don't want to participate in what we're trying to achieve, which is to change Obamacare and make it better," he added.
But Lee, a member the Republican health care working group, also criticized Senate GOP leadership for not sharing the contents of the bill in a Facebook video he released Tuesday.
"It has become increasingly apparent in the last few days that even though we thought we were going to be in charge of writing a bill within this working group, it's not being written by us," Lee said. "It's apparently being written by a small handful of staffers for members of the Republican leadership in the Senate. So if you're frustrated by the lack of transparency in this process, I share your frustration. I share it wholeheartedly."
"We should have been able to see it weeks ago, if we're going to be voting on it next week," Lee said.
McConnell said the public will "have plenty of time" to read the bill before the Senate votes on it.
"We've been discussing all the elements of this endlessly for seven years. Everybody pretty well understands it," McConnell said when pressed to specify how long people will have to read the bill. "Everybody will have adequate time to take a look at it. I think this will be about as transparent as it can be."
"The status quo is simply unsustainable," McConnell said, his usually monotone voice rising slightly, as a reporter tried to ask another question about the public having access to the text of the bill. "To ignore that the status quo is imploding is to ignore reality."
"We think we can do better than that, and we fully intend to," McConnell said, softening his tone and smiling. He then turned, still smiling, and walked away as a reporter tried to ask whether the public had the right to see the full process unfold.
Emma Loop contributed to this story.