Haley Byrd/Independent Journal Review
Republican senators were in a state of disarray Thursday as they scrambled to piece together a deal to pass a health care bill next week while trying to decipher conflicting messages from GOP leadership and the White House.
Within a span of 30 seconds, Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) first told reporters that discussions of possible Obamacare replacement plans last night brought about some ideas that “might have some legs,” before pivoting to say he expects next week's vote to be on a clean repeal bill without a replacement plan in place.
The Congressional Budget Office found Wednesday that a clean repeal bill would leave 32 million more Americans uninsured over a decade compared to current law, whereas Thursday's updated CBO score of the GOP replacement plan said 22 million more Americans would be left uninsured.
As of Thursday afternoon, Republicans didn't know which bill they'll be working to advance, but they did know that both approaches currently don't have enough support from members to be successful.
Republicans can only lose two members in order to pass a replacement bill with a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence, leaving virtually no room for disagreement as Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have indicated their steadfast opposition to the plan.
Still, Republicans are working to get members on board with a version of the original replacement plan draft Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) presented to members last month.
A group of GOP senators met late into the night on Wednesday to hash out their differences on the Obamacare replacement plan, and while there was mild optimism, they left without finding consensus.
Their work continued Thursday.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) — a vocal critic of the Republican health care process, as well as an opponent of McConnell's last-ditch clean repeal effort — told a gaggle of reporters she'll be meeting with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma to go over health care numbers specific to Alaska later Thursday evening.
“I'm becoming concerned that it's starting to feel like a bazaar,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told reporters Thursday afternoon. “It's almost becoming a bidding process, you know? Fifty billion here, a hundred billion there.”
Corker drew comparisons to the process leading up to Obamacare's passage, adding that the similarities were making him “really, really uncomfortable.”
Those bidding attempts to woo skeptical senators could have some impact, but divides within the conference run deep and have proven nearly impossible to overcome throughout the fumbling legislative push.
In the meantime, senators are simply trying to figure out what's going on.
Before a meeting at the White House yesterday, Republicans were set to pursue a clean repeal because their replacement bill simply couldn't garner enough support for passage — but the clean repeal plan doesn't have enough support for passage, either.
After the meeting, senators returned to attempts to craft a replacement plan at the urging of President Donald Trump.
Complicating the push for Republicans is Arizona Sen. John McCain's diagnosis of brain cancer announced Wednesday night, making seemingly impossible math even more difficult to overcome.
And Trump's health care messaging has only added to the confusion: He has expressed support for three separate approaches to the issue this week alone.
Without a clear path forward, some Republicans are discreetly considering bipartisan efforts for insurance market stabilization instead.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) told reporters Thursday that a Republican senator who hadn't responded to his efforts for a bipartisan approach said to him this morning, “'I know I haven't returned your text message, but after we have our vote, I'm in.'”