Politics

GOP Senators Threaten Obamacare Repeal Effort

Four senators voiced concerns, which would be enough to block the GOP bill

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, raised concerns about addressing the Medicaid expansion. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

BY BRIDGET BOWMAN AND NIELS LESNIEWSKI, CQ ROLL CALL

Four Republican senators have raised concerns about a House GOP plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  And that could threaten the fate of the plan in the Senate.

The senators hail from states that expanded Medicaid under President Barack Obama’s health care law.  They voiced concerns about how a draft of the Republican plan published by Politico on Feb. 10 addressed the expansion.

“While we support efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and make structural reforms to the Medicaid program, we are concerned that the February 10th draft proposal from the House of Representatives does not provide stability and certainty for individuals and families in Medicaid expansion programs or the necessary flexibility for states,” the senators wrote McConnell.

Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska signed the letter. Their support would be critical to ensuring passage of an Obamacare repeal and replace plan in the Senate.

Gardner, the NRSC chairman, said he expected to know more after House Republicans unveil the health care legislation Monday evening, but it was clear that neither he nor Portman were aware of the specifics of latest House language.

“This is the start of along conversation about what it’s going to look like,” Gardner said. “We want to make sure that we’re part of the conversation going forward.”

Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch of Utah indicated to reporters that there was no pre-cooked agreement that could move swiftly across the Senate floor after House action.

“I would not look to these problems as though they can’t be resolved. They can, and it’s going to take some leadership. But watch what McConnell does here.”

“I think it’ll all come together in the end,” Hatch said, before suggesting that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be the key to the entire process. “We have a perfect leader who knows how to do that.”

“McConnell is always leading, and he’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever seen, and he knows how to bring people together and get them to resolve their differences,” Hatch said. “The House has the right to come up with what it wants to and present it to the Senate by passing it. And we have the right to look it over and say do we like it or don’t like it?”

A White House official did not directly address the senators’ concerns, but said via email that “we are working feverishly and productively with the House and Senate every day to work through the issues to create a better healthcare system for all Americans.”

Republicans are not counting on any Democratic support for their plan to undo Obama’s signature legislation. So Senate Republicans, with a 52-member majority, can only afford to have two Republicans vote against the plan. 

Text of a House plan is expected at some point this week, though House lawmakers have declined to discuss a specific timeline. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., told reporters to “stay tuned” when asked when the bill would be released and when his committee would hold a markup. 

A blueprint of the plan presented to House lawmakers in February would phase out reimbursements for states that expanded Medicaid, but it did not lay out how the program would be funded long-term. One proposal centered on so-called per capita caps, which would allot funds for each enrollee in a state. 

Thirty one states and the District of Columbia that have expanded Medicaid under the health care law. Twenty one GOP senators represent those states. 

 Lindsey McPherson and John T. Bennett contributed to this report.

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