Senate Republicans Consider Health Care Bill To Replace Obamacare

Originally published on June 19, 2017 8:01 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In Washington, this is going to be an important couple of weeks for a big item on the Republican's agenda - repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. After the House passed a health care bill, now Senate Republicans are rushing to finalize their own version. The aim is to hold a vote before the July 4 recess. But Democrats complain the entire process is happening behind closed doors. Actually, some Republican senators are complaining as well. In fact, at a hearing, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price admitted that he hasn't seen any bill.

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TOM PRICE: I've had multiple conversations with senators who are interested in making certain that we have a health care system that works for patients. My staff has provided technical assistance. I haven't seen any legislative language.

GREENE: Tommy Binion is in our studio. He's a congressional liaison at the conservative Heritage Foundation and follows this debate closely. Good morning.

TOMMY BINION: Good morning.

GREENE: So have you seen a bill?

BINION: No, I...

GREENE: Has anyone seen the bill except the people who are putting it together in secret?

BINION: I haven't seen the bill. I understand that the majority of senators have seen a slide show, a PowerPoint presentation about the bill but not actual bill text.

GREENE: Is that weird? I mean does this usually happen in such secrecy?

BINION: It's not unusual, especially for a big bill like this. It's OK that the drafting is happening behind closed doors, but as Senator Rubio pointed out over the weekend...

GREENE: Marco Rubio, Florida, yeah.

BINION: It's important that senators have a chance to read it and then amend it during the debate. So however long it takes them to draft it in private, let's bring it out into the public and have an open process where senators can amend it on the floor.

GREENE: Are you worried that's not going to happen if they keep with this, you know, sort of quick timeline, trying to get a vote before July 4?

BINION: Yeah, we'll see. We'd have to see text really early this week, and they'd have to have sort of a marathon markup on the floor next week. Whether or not a vote before July 4 recess happens or it's merely a test vote to see where senators are, that's all still up in the air right now. The process is really uncertain. I think they want to have a vote before July 4 so that they - when they go home to their states, they can say, hey, I voted to repeal Obamacare like I promised to do. What's more important is that the actual bill is sound public policy.

GREENE: Well, let me ask you about the public policy part of this because there have been some major disagreements among Republicans, especially over how much to roll back President Obama's expansion of Medicaid. Do you get a sense that Republicans are getting closer to working out their differences?

BINION: I don't know that they are getting closer. I - they revealed in their plan that they revealed to the senators a couple of weeks ago they were going to treat the Medicaid expansion. It was going to wind down even slower than the House bill. It's my sense that there are conservatives in the Senate - Ted Cruz, Senator Mike Lee, Senator Rand Paul - that that would be unacceptable to. So while they may be inching forward on a plan to have a really slow wind down of the Medicaid expansion, they may not have the votes for that.

GREENE: Tommy Binion, let me just step back here because Republicans loved talking about their view that Obamacare was not popular in the country. I mean it was something they campaigned on. Now we come today. Polls show that the House Health Care Bill, the Republican bill, is opposed by a huge majority of Americans. Are Republicans getting some kind of message from that?

BINION: You know, I think they're taking a stronger message from their election, from their campaign. Both this election cycle and the three before that, they have a black-and-white, very clear promise to repeal Obamacare. Now, I grant you; this is an unpopular bill. All of the polls have has made that very clear. But I think what's happening here is they're trying desperately to keep their promise to vote for anything that they can call Obamacare repeal. So in this case, yes, they've picked a very unpopular bill. That's part of what the process has thrust upon them. But they're determined to keep their promise.

GREENE: Tommy Binion is a congressional liaison with the conservative Heritage Foundation. He joined us in our studios this morning. Thanks so much for the time.

BINION: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.