There's some conventional wisdom going around that Republican candidate Karen Handel's win over Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff in the hotly-watched, down-to-the-wire special election in Georgia's 6th Congressional district Tuesday night is a godsend for ongoing GOP efforts to dismantle Obamacare. But recent comments from both House and Senate Republicans suggest it isn't the game-changer required to pass a consensus conservative alternative to the health law.
For one, the fate of Trumpcare now more or less lies with the Senate and not the House of Representatives. What's more, it has a more difficult path in that chamber than the American Health Care Act (AHCA) did in the House, where the bill passed on a 217-213 vote last month. Senate moderates have expressed skepticism over the AHCA's deep cuts to the Medicaid safety net program for poor Americans (which Obamacare expanded considerably), along with provisions that independent analyses have suggested would lead to widespread coverage losses and higher medical costs for the old and the sick.
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The way the legislation is progressing in the Senate–shorn of the ordinary committee process and public hearings–has only added to some lawmakers' frustrations. On Tuesday, just before the Georgia election, Utah GOP Sen. Mike Lee, one of the people tasked with drafting the bill, aired his misgivings, stating he wasn't sure what's actually in the bill.
This is politics, and there's always a chance that public statements like the above are more strategic than significant. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly plans to unveil the Senate bill's contents on Thursday in order to set up a vote as soon as next week.
The details of that release will be critical for Trumpcare's chances. If, as previously reported, it contains even deeper cuts to Medicaid than the House bill, it will have a difficult time garnering support from Senate GOP moderates, including Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, Maine's Susan Collins, and a number of others. If it moves too far to the left, however, then key House members like the Republican Study Committee caucus could revolt, as implied by a stern letter the group sent to McConnell this week demanding legislation that hews to a number of strict conservative principles.
Regardless of the details, Trumpcare's heavily-expedited timeframe could give lawmakers pause. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), a staunch Obamacare opponent, expressed his own doubts about passing such a wide-ranging and consequential bill with just a week's time to examine it on Tuesday. "I don't see how, again I'll never say never, I just find it very hard to conceive that I'll be able to gather all the information I need to justify a yes vote," he said.
But playing the guessing game on health care legislation is difficult, especially without more details. Few expected the AHCA to ultimately pass after its initial failure in the House, and the GOP's Georgia victory could very well provide much-needed political cover for lawmakers determined to undo Obamacare. Still, the proposed initiatives have only gotten more unpopular over time. And multiple members of Congress appear, at least on the surface, to be uneasy about hustling through a law that will affect tens of millions of Americans.