The legislative process surrounding Senate efforts to dismantle Obamacare has taken a turn for the bizarre, with multiple Senators reportedly refusing to back the GOP’s own health care bill unless they’re assured that the House of Representatives won’t pass it.
Here’s where things currently stand (though calling the ever-shifting situation fluid would be a massive understatement): two of the GOP’s health care bills have gone down in the past two days. One was a broader Obamacare repeal-and-replacement, an update to the Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA). The other was a more simple rollback of major parts of Obamacare called the Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act (ORRA). Neither made it anywhere close to passage, with nine and seven GOP Senators defecting on the bills, respectively.
Now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his lieutenants are cobbling together a “skinny” Obamacare repeal that would tackle unpopular provisions of the health law like its individual mandate to buy insurance, a mandate for employers, and a number of other elements. What this final product may look like is unclear.
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But as it turns out, it may not really matter. As I reported earlier this week, skinny repeal would likely be a legislative blank check of sorts—a vessel that would carry the Senate into a “conference committee” with the House where a much broader health care bill could be freshly negotiated. Top GOP Senators are now openly confirming that this was the strategy all along. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn and Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker both made statements along these lines Thursday.
Now here comes another twist: The House doesn’t have to go to a conference committee with the Senate. It could simply opt to pass the Senate’s skinny bill, whatever form that takes, verbatim. (In fact, the House did basically that with the Senate’s Obamacare legislation back in 2010.) And that’s reportedly something that several GOP Senators—including Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson and South Dakota’s Mike Rounds—want assurances will not happen.
So if the Senate does pass a skinny repeal sometime tonight—and that’s a big if—the next question will be whether or not the House decides to go to conference (which has zero guarantee of producing a deal that could then pass both chambers), or whether or not lawmakers decide to just pass a significantly pared down Obamacare repeal and call it a day. McConnell is trying his hardest to convince his members that will not be the case.