In a surprise to many in his own party, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday postponed plans for a vote this week on a GOP health care bill, as internal divisions among Republicans burst into the open on the best way to overhaul the Obama health law, delaying any vote until next month at the earliest.
Here is what’s next on the health care front:
1. No vote until after the July Fourth break. The plan from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was to have a final vote on a GOP health bill by this Friday at the latest. Instead, the new plan is to come up with some deals and secure the 50 votes needed for passage in July. “I think this is a good decision,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), who expressed optimism that a vote could take place the week of July 10. “We’re so close,” Perdue added. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is Congress only feels the pressure to act right before a vacation break – and that doesn’t happen again until July 28, just before lawmakers take a five week summer recess.
2. Some not so subtle GOP messages. One thing that was striking were the statements issued by several GOP Senators – after the vote had been delayed – as several Republicans waited to publicly pronounce their opposition and concerns. For Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), it was the level of Medicaid spending. Maybe the biggest surprise was a statement from Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) – who wasn’t on anyone’s radar – that he was opposed to the bill as it currently stands. To me, Moran is a canary in the coal mine for broader GOP concerns about the details of their health care bill.
3. Some Republicans sounding some odd notes. Along with the statement from Sen. Moran, another post-delay item deserves a note, from Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who had been critical of how the GOP health care bill was being cobbled together. “The first draft of the bill included hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for the affluent,” Lee said in a statement, a line that sounded more like something that a Democratic Senator might say, rather than a very conservative Republican.
4. Who can McConnell peel off on health care? While various GOP Senators said they opposed the Republican health plan, they also included the caveat that they don’t like the way it is right now. Things could change in coming days and weeks in order to get someone to vote “Yes.” But for Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), his message in a telephone town hall to voters back in the Silver State on Tuesday night was that he doesn’t expect major changes in how the GOP bill would deal with the Medicaid program, and that means he remains opposed. “I do not believe that Ronald Reagan would have supported this health care bill,” Heller said. I’ll put him down as a “No” for right now.
5. But don’t declare the bill dead just yet. Remember, the House came back from several near-death experiences on health care in March and April, and still managed to get something approved in May. So, just because the Senate has thrown a tire in June does not mean that the entire bill is going into the Legislative Ditch. Speaker Paul Ryan said – a few hours before the Senate got the chain wrapped around the axle – that he wouldn’t bet against his Senate counterpart. The Majority Leader will be tested now, and we’ll see how Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) performs in the spotlight. It’s his chance to show us how the Art of the Deal works in the U.S. Senate.