Republicans Running Out of Time and Options to Repeal and Replace Obamacare

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. (Bill Clark | CQ Roll Call | Getty Images)
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. (Bill Clark | CQ Roll Call | Getty Images)

Congress returns to Washington next week amid mounting Republican skepticism that the party will be able to deliver on its pledge of repealing and replacing Obamacare.

“I’m not sure I’d put a bet on it,” Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin told me in an interview. His comments followed an interview Sen. Richard Burr gave to a North Carolina television station in which he called the House-passed health-care bill “dead on arrival,” adding: “I don’t see a comprehensive health-care plan this year.”

A third Republican senator, speaking on condition of anonymity, told me the only health-care bill capable of passing the Senate would be a “narrow” approach repairing marketplace exchanges and preserving Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid, while perhaps loosening regulations on states and changing how the federal government shares Medicaid expenses with them. The problem with that more modest approach, the Republican senator conceded, is that the more conservative House Republican caucus might reject it.

Those individual comments are significant because Republicans have only a narrow 52-seat Senate majority. To pass a bill without help from Democrats, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s caucus could only suffer two defectors, which would allow Vice President Mike Pence to break a 50-50 tie.

Burr’s assessment of the American Health Care Act narrowly passed by the House reflects its myriad political problems. The Congressional Budget Office estimates it would result in 23 million fewer Americans with health insurance and raise costs for older and sicker people while providing a tax cut for the wealthy.

Meanwhile, insurance companies have been rattled by uncertainty over not only the long-term fate of Obamacare but also the near-term prospects for federal payments that under the 2010 law help reduce co-payments and deductibles for low-income beneficiaries. If the Trump administration withholds those payments, as it has threatened to, health insurance premiums would spike.

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