Republicans mum on health care progress as Trump urges Senate to repeal Obamacare

Andrew Bahl
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks during a weekly press conference following a policy luncheon on Capitol Hill, June 13, 2017. (Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Debate continued to rage in Congress Tuesday about a long awaited Senate health care bill, with top Republicans meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House on the matter.

While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said there was no definitive timeline for when the bill would be finished, he countered claims that the process has not been transparent.

“We’ll let you see the bill when we finally release it,” McConnell told reporters. “No one is hiding the ball here.”

Meanwhile, Trump met with 13 senators on the issue, praising the lawmakers for what he called their hard work while making no mention of the confusion and controversy that has surrounded the drafting process.

“The House has passed a bill and now the Senate is working very, very hard, and specifically the folks in this room — and I really appreciate what you’re doing to come out with a bill that’s going to be a phenomenal bill for the people of our country,” Trump said.

Republicans who met with Trump said the president made it clear that the bill needs to be passed as quickly as possible.

“The message was we need to get this done, it needs to get done right and sooner is better than later,” Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., told reporters, adding that Trump was comfortable with the Senate breaking with their House colleagues and writing a new bill.

Thune noted, however, that there was not a consensus about key pieces of the proposal, saying Trump wanted the bill to help those with pre-existing conditions.

“I think everybody there offered support for a bill they like,” Thune said of the meeting, laughing.

President Trump hosts a working lunch with members of Congress to discuss reforming Obamacare. (Photo: Mike Theiler/Getty Images

Democrats have raised concerns in recent days both about the content of the bill as well as the transparency of the process. They argue the bill may wind up being similar to the American Health Care Act passed by the House last month, which a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report said would result in 23 million Americans being uninsured than under current law.

The House bill was panned by liberals, who noted it would slash Medicaid expansion for poor people and make it harder for people with pre-existing conditions to obtain health care coverage. A May Quinnipiac University poll also found that only 21 percent of Americans supported the AHCA, with 56 percent opposed.

“That is a dereliction of duty and from where I stand, flat immoral,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said of the bill on the Senate floor Tuesday. “To take health care away from that many people.”

Vowing to take a more methodical approach in drafting their own bill, McConnell and a group of other Republican lawmakers have been pushing to get a vote on the Senate version before the July 4 recess.

Critics say the Republican process lacks transparency, noting there is likely to be no public hearing on the bill and that the proposal may not be released until shortly before a vote.

Even some Republicans have expressed frustration with the process, saying they don’t yet know what the bill will entail.

“While I haven’t seen the language, I am hoping that it stays within the confines of what we’ve discussed within the caucus,” Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, told Roll Call Monday.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters that the process was “legislative malpractice” and other Democrats have pointed out that Republicans similarly criticized the process of drafting Obamacare, despite a series of public hearings the party held on the bill.

“The No. 1 issue people care about is not Comey and it’s not Russia, it is health care,” Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., told reporters. “They have a right to know what’s in the Senate plan.”

Trump insisted Tuesday that Democrats have blocked progress on fixing what he sees as Obamacare’s shortcomings.

“By contrast, Republicans in Congress, as hard as they’re working, you have the Democrats on the other side who truly have become obstructionists,” Trump said.

Any proposal in the Senate is almost certain to meet resistance from Democrats, forcing Republicans to pass it by using the reconciliation process, which limits the scope of the bill but reduces the threshold required to pass to just 50 votes.

The next step, once Republicans finalize a draft, is to send it to the CBO for evaluation, with Republicans looking to underscore potential savings in their own version. That process will take two to three weeks.

McConnell did not say Tuesday whether he was still aiming to have a vote before the fast-approaching July 4 recess.

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