Senate Republicans Consider Passing ‘Skinny Repeal’ but Say It Wouldn’t Solve Their Problems

Haley Byrd/Independent Journal Review

After failing to rally behind an Obamacare replacement plan, some Republicans are gearing up to rush a scaled-back repeal bill through the Senate this week.

Their hope is to jump soon into a conference committee with House members that would allow them to hammer out a more-ambitious health care bill that can rally more support.

“We’re trying to explore the way forward, and to me [skinny repeal], seems to have a lot of benefits,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters Wednesday morning.

The “skinny repeal” bill hasn’t been scored by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office or released yet — just days before a potential vote. It would scrap the individual and employer Affordable Care Act mandates along with the medical device tax, a move experts argue would destabilize health care markets and hike premiums.

The idea, still unsettled, would be to pass a bill that can attract 50 votes, and then move on to negotiate an entirely different plan in a conference committee between the House and Senate.

But the deep policy rifts among Republican lawmakers aren’t disappearing any time soon, and some lawmakers worry the skinny repeal solution wouldn’t be much of a solution at all.

“The so-called skinny provision is not a resolution of this problem,” Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) told reporters. “It only takes us to the next step, where hopefully we can find one.”

Skinny repeal “doesn’t fix the problem,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) agreed. “It’s a vehicle to get us into conference. That is not a solution to the problem.”

When House Republicans passed the American Health Care Act in May after months of contentious negotiations, many members voted in favor of the legislation despite their concerns, because they believed their colleagues in the “cooling saucer” of the Senate would iron out the kinks in the bill — but they couldn’t.

The skinny repeal proposal bears similarities to the House’s can-kicking strategy, and this time leaves important policy decisions up in the air until a conference committee can make them.

But the key: If the Senate passes a skinny repeal bill, the House could simply take up the legislation and pass it unchanged, declaring a quick victory after a lengthy and painful process.

A Senate GOP aide told Independent Journal Review he expects such an outcome to be the Republican strategy, rather than muddling through the complexities of health care reform in conference.

Several Republican senators dodged questions about whether passing only a skinny repeal would mark an improvement over current law, arguing the conference committee would figure things out.

Others, such as Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), were confident the skinny repeal would be better policy, even if passed without alterations.

And some recognized — but shrugged off — the risk of passing a bill with the expectation it would undergo substantial changes, when those changes might not materialize.

“Sounds kind of like the way legislative processes work,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) told reporters.

In the meantime, Republican senators are set to vote on a 2015 clean repeal of the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday afternoon, which they don’t expect to pass.

Next comes a vote-a-rama on an unlimited number of amendments before an expected final vote sometime late Thursday or Friday on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s ultimate plan.