WASHINGTON — A key Republican senator says the Republican health care bill is in “jeopardy” due to comments Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made to moderate senators behind closed doors.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told reporters Monday that he has confirmed with moderate GOP senators that McConnell, R-Ky., told them the bill’s biggest Medicaid cuts would never go into effect because they are so far in the future.
Johnson wants those changes to the Medicaid program and says it’s a “breach of trust” that McConnell is making conflicting statements to different members of his caucus.
“‘Don’t worry about it,’” Johnson said McConnell told the senators. “‘Those are too far in the future; it’ll never happen.’”
The Washington Post reported last week that McConnell told Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., that the bill’s biggest Medicaid cuts are so distant they probably won’t go into effect anyway. Starting in 2025, the federal government’s payment to states for Medicaid would be pegged to the rate of consumer inflation, instead of the higher rate of medical inflation, leading to steep cuts in funding for the popular program.
“I find those comments very troubling, and I think it really puts in jeopardy the motion-to-proceed vote,” Johnson said.
McConnell needs at least 50 senators to back a motion-to-proceed vote to even begin to debate his health care plan. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, have already said they will vote against the motion, meaning McConnell cannot lose another Republican vote. Johnson did not say Monday whether he would vote against the motion to proceed, but explained that he had stopped lobbying other senators to let debate begin.
“Last week I was strongly urging colleagues to vote motion to proceed,” he said. “I’m not doing that right now.”
If one more GOP senator defects, McConnell could effectively be facing a Republican-backed filibuster of an Obamacare replacement the party has been promising to deliver on the campaign trail for seven years. President Donald Trump said last week he’d be “very angry” if Republicans don’t end up passing the bill, which remains deeply unpopular with the American public.
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The vote has been delayed at least a week in order to give Sen. John McCain time to recover from surgery. That gap will allow McConnell the opportunity to heal the divisions in his caucus.
Some medical experts have speculated McCain could be out of commission for even longer than a week, though Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters that McCain “wants to come back so bad he can’t stand it” and may try to “walk back” if doctors tell him it’s unsafe to fly. McConnell also cancelled two weeks of August recess, buying him more time to push a repeal-and-replace bill through.
But the path forward looks rough. Most of the negotiations are now centering around Medicaid, which moderate senators worry is being cut too severely. Any move toward the center on that issue, however, risks conservative votes. A nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office score expected this week or next will also likely predict millions fewer Americans would receive health insurance under the plan than under current law, potentially scaring off support from moderates.
Portman said Monday that he didn’t like the bill capping Medicaid payments to the consumer inflation rate, but declined to say whether it was a deal breaker.
“Do I like it? No,” he told reporters. “We’re still having discussions.”
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