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What to expect as Senate health care battle goes into overtime

July 11, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Tuesday that the Senate will delay the beginning of its summer recess by two weeks in order to tackle a daunting agenda, topped by the health care battle. Lisa Desjardins join John Yang to discuss what’s in the latest version and how lawmakers are reacting.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: With Congress back from their Independence Day break, the pressure is on for Republicans to broker a deal on health care, in addition to other high priorities like tax reform, all of this as the August recess looms just weeks away.

In a minute, John Yang will be back to talk to Lisa Desjardins, but, first, Lisa has the current state of play on Capitol Hill.

LISA DESJARDINS: With the health care fight unresolved and no action on the budget or tax reform, Utah Senator Mike Lee and nine fellow Republicans asked today to cancel the August recess.

SEN. MIKE LEE, R-Utah: At this time, it doesn’t make sense for us to just take the month of August off.

LISA DESJARDINS: Majority Leader Mitch McConnell partially obliged.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky., Majority Leader: We will be in session the first two weeks of August.

LISA DESJARDINS: That buys a little more time to tackle a daunting agenda, topped by replacing Obamacare.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: We will be on health care next week. We will be laying out a revised version of the repeal and replace effort, the text of that, on Thursday morning.

LISA DESJARDINS: Multiple Republican senators told NewsHour this is what’s in the latest plan: It restores an investment tax and a Medicare tax on the wealthy. Plans to cut those taxes drew criticism as helping the rich. More subsidies or tax credits for lower-income families and billions more for opioid treatment.

But indications are there will be essentially no changes to the Medicaid section. That would cut the number of people on Medicaid by millions. And one unusual twist: Republicans are still mulling an amendment from Texas Senator Ted Cruz that will allow insurers to offer just one Obamacare-compliant plan and avoid its regulations in the rest.

That general idea could bring on Cruz and other key votes like Lee.

SEN. MIKE LEE: That’s one way to get me to yes on the bill.

LISA DESJARDINS: But Democrats, like Senator Jeanne Shaheen, voiced a concern some Republican moderates share.

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN, D-N.H.: Our Republican colleagues haven’t had just six months to put together a health care bill. They have had seven years and six months. And the Cruz amendment is not the answer. It would roll back protections for people with preexisting conditions. It would cost more for consumers.

LISA DESJARDINS: All said, it is not yet clear if a revised plan will get the 50 votes it needs. McConnell wants to hold that vote next week, and many Republicans say it’s time, win or lose.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY, R-La.: In my judgment, it’s time to vote.

LISA DESJARDINS: These are unusual times. The Senate Historian’s Office tells me that only once in modern history has the Senate cut short its August recess.

John, guess what the topic was? It was 1994. It was health care. Democrats failed to pass their bill back then.

JOHN YANG: Hillarycare back then.

LISA DESJARDINS: That’s right.

JOHN YANG: Lisa, you said that the Cruz amendment is going to be key.

But Senator McConnell also said that Thursday, they are going to see a text. How are going to they handle the Cruz amendment?

LISA DESJARDINS: Yes.

This is a bit of a tricky — it’s actually — think of it as two different bills, a bill A and a bill B. It will be the same text. Only, one will have the Cruz amendment, one will not. The big moment to decide which goes forward will be Monday, probably, when we expect the Congressional Budget Office to come out with its score to say, does the Cruz amendment help these markets, what does it do for premiums, what does it do for preexisting conditions?

That will be the big decision moment.

JOHN YANG: And in your spot, you said that they still don’t have the 50 votes for what is probably going to come out Thursday.

Are they going to continue to tweak it to try to get the votes they need? Or how is that going to work?

LISA DESJARDINS: I think that’s why we didn’t see text today, John. That’s why saw sort of a framework and Vice President Pence up there trying to massage people into this.

But, honestly, coming out of the meeting, some people were more warm to it, like Bob Corker today. Others, like Lisa Murkowski, came out, was there, was there progress made on things important to you? She turned to reporters and just said no.

JOHN YANG: So, there’s still some work to go for someone like that.

They have got two extra weeks now. What else are they going to do? Are there other things they have got to get done before they get their reward by going home for recess?

(LAUGHTER)

LISA DESJARDINS: Well, here’s the thing.

If they take the vote on health care next week, there are many who think it could fail and that Mitch McConnell will let it fail. At that point, then, they would have another decision to make. Do we try again, a different kind of Republican bill, or do we in fact work with Democrats, come up with an entire ‘nother approach to health care to try to fix the Obamacare markets? Do we try and pass that before we leave in the middle of August?

Then they also have a budget to deal with, spending bills. Conservatives want to actually do a proper spending process and debate spending cuts, rather than just have one big bill dropped on at once.

There is a lot of work to do. It’s not clear how they will get the votes to do it, though, but now they do have more time.

JOHN YANG: Lisa Desjardins, a lot of work for them, a lot of work for you.

LISA DESJARDINS: Thank you.

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