- The Washington Times
Thursday, June 22, 2017

Four Senate Republicans said Thursday they oppose the Senate’s new health care bill as written, meaning passage could be in jeopardy unless leaders tweak the bill enough to satisfy them.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah said they opposed the draft legislation for a “variety of reasons,” but they’re still open to negotiation before the bill hits the floor.

“There are provisions in this draft that represent an improvement to our current health care system but it does not appear this draft as written will accomplish the most important promise that we made to Americans: to repeal Obamacare and lower their health care costs,” they said in a joint statement.

Senate GOP leaders hold a 52-seat majority, so they cannot afford to lose more than two votes under special budget rules that allow them to gut Obamacare without facing a Democratic filibuster.

Their Obamacare replacement plan softens the edges of the House bill that President Trump reportedly called “mean,” offering more generous tax subsidies for the poor to buy insurance and extending the lifespan of President Obama’s Medicaid expansion.

Yet Mr. Paul doesn’t like the refundable tax credits and aired his concerns directly to President Trump.

“I told him, part of my problem is it still looks too much like Obamacare for me,” Mr. Paul said.

Mr. Cruz and Mr. Lee, meanwhile, want to gut more of Obamacare’s strictures on insurers to lower costs.

“As currently drafted, this bill draft does not do nearly enough to lower premiums. That should be the central issue for Republicans — repealing Obamacare and making health care more affordable,” Mr. Cruz said.

“It is important to remember that what was released today was only a draft,” he said. “I am hopeful that as we openly debate this legislation, real improvements will be made prior to floor consideration so that we can pass a bill that provides the relief from Obamacare that Republicans have repeatedly promised the last seven years.”

Mr. Johnson, meanwhile, opposed the secretive drafting process and thinks the Senate might be rushing to a vote. He said he needs more input from back home.

“I’ve got to talk to the governor, to our state legislators, to doctors, to nurse, to health care providers, to hospitals — and we actually have to get the information we don’t have yet,” he said.

GOP leaders are eyeing a floor showdown next week, after the Congressional Budget Office scores their plan’s affect on federal spending and coverage.

While leaders might broker a deal, efforts to appease the conservatives risk alienating moderates who want to preserve coverage for their residents.

The bill maintains the same basic outline as the House proposal, repealing Obamacare’s “individual mandate” and the health exchanges and replacing them with tax credits aimed at helping those who don’t get coverage through their jobs buy plans on the individual market.

It also provides tens of billions in “stabilization” dollars to help states transition to a GOP model and subsidize sicker and poorer Americans.

Mr. Paul said that amounts to an expensive Band-Aid on Obamacare’s core problem — low enrollment is driving up costs, deterring even more enrollees and making the problem worse.

“They don’t fix the death spiral, they subsidize it,” Mr. Paul said. “That’s sort of like saying, ‘Cars are expensive, why don’t we have a car stabilization fund?’”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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