The prospects of Republicans meeting their deadline of a Senate health care vote before the end of the month are bleak — and growing more so by the day.
Senate Republicans are getting dangerously close to missing their deadline to hold a Senate health care vote by month’s end, potentially derailing fulfillment of their 7-year-old campaign promise to repeal Obamacare.
The Senate left Washington on Thursday with a seemingly insurmountable health care to-do list: When they return on Monday, Republicans will have just two weeks before the Fourth of July recess to overcome the remaining big divides on policy — including what year to roll back Medicaid expansion and how deeply to cut the program that covers health care for people with low incomes. They also must settle on how to bring down health insurance premiums and when to cut the taxes that paid for Obamacare — not to mention the vexing issue of whether to defund Planned Parenthood.
And they have to do all that and still keep at least 50 of the 52 Republican votes they need to pass it.
Republicans ran on a pledge to repeal Obamacare on “Day One” — but it has taken months to get this far. While the July deadline was self-imposed — and there’s nothing unusual about Congress taking longer than expected to pass legislation — the target date is also strategic. Senate Republicans want to wrap up health care so they can move on to a host of other priorities their voters expect, like tax reform. Even though Republicans control the House, Senate and White House, there’s been a paucity of legislative achievement so far in Donald Trump’s presidency.
With that in mind, the Senate could still rush to get the bill passed in two weeks.
But it’s unlikely they’ll make it. Even if they resolve their biggest disagreements, they still have to write the rest of the bill, send the full text to the Congressional Budget Office, await the agency’s score and keep 50 Republicans together through a lengthy series of procedural votes on legislation that would reshape one-sixth of the American economy — all with Democrats trying to slow them down every step of the way.
If the bill does slip into July, Republicans would then have to face another week-long recess in which opponents will have a chance to hold raucous town hall meetings. At that point, the GOP would run the risk of not getting a bill to Trump’s desk before Congress leaves town for the entire month of August.
“You know, I thought that was a stretch anyway,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said of the late June deadline Republican leaders had set for themselves.
Rank-and-file Republican lawmakers — including Capito and Sens. Bill Cassidy and Rand Paul — left the latest working group meeting Thursday, saying they have still not seen the full health bill. Even Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said at a hearing he hasn’t seen Senate legislative text.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “is trying to build consensus and he’s trying to keep it moving. So that’s why I think he’s talked about [a June vote], but I don’t think it’s a hard and fast deadline,” said Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.). “He’s got to try to set some benchmarks to try to keep herding people.”
Despite the slim prospects, Republican leaders are still trying to keep focused on a June vote. A source familiar with the discussions said McConnell is continuing to push for a quick resolution to the health debate that’s already gone on for months, telling members it doesn’t make sense to take more and more time when many Republicans are eager to push on to other priorities.