The Health 202: McConnell places all his chips on health care gambit – Washington Post

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is charging onward in his quest to pass a health-care bill reshaping Obamacare, announcing yesterday that a draft will be ready on Thursday for a potential vote next week. From his perspective, a vote can’t happen fast enough.

Lobbyists and aides say the majority leader wants to move health care off his plate as quickly as possible. McConnell (R-Ky.) appears to believe the issue could be a political sinkhole, which could bury his chances of retaining the Senate majority next year. The House version is deeply unpopular, and there’s little indication the Senate bill will be much more palatable to voters. McConnell feels strongly that Republicans must pass some kind of rollback after promising for seven years to do so, but he wants it done and out of the way — fast. And the majority leader is deeply aware there’s a strong possibility the whole effort might lose steam if his members return to their home states for the Fourth of July recess without finishing their work on health care before then.

Staff is now putting the finishing touches on a draft bill as the GOP leadership tries behind closed doors to bring Republicans on board with it. Leaders have planned a big meeting Thursday morning to start whipping members, per Politico.

But Republicans are hardly out of the danger zone. It remains unclear exactly how McConnell will get about five to seven holdout senators to sign off on the forthcoming measure (Politico also has a useful list of senators most likely to oppose the bill and why). Some key members, including Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), don’t appear at all certain they’re nearing a resolution. “Didn’t seem like it to me,” Hatch told my colleagues Sean Sullivan, Juliet Eilperin and Kelsey Snell yesterday.

McConnell’s can’t-attack-what-you-can’t-see approach of not holding committee hearings is deeply irking a growing chorus of members as even some Republicans join Democrats in criticizing the majority leader’s methods. “The secretive effort has alarmed Senate Democrats and even some Republicans,” Sean, Kelsey and Juliet write. “Some Republicans said they were confused about the bill taking shape, voicing frustration about the lack of transparency or warning against rushing.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) summed up perfectly the frustration Republicans are feeling, in a comment to Bloomberg’s Laura Litvan.

“No, nor have I met any American that has,” McCain said when asked if he’d seen the Senate health-care plan. “I’m sure the Russians have been able to hack in and have gotten most of it.”

–Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), one of the conservatives whose vote is in doubt, posted a video to Facebook yesterday saying he was “frustrated” with the process thus far. Lee said he’s received numerous calls from constituents asking questions like when the health-care bill will be released to the public and why it isn’t already public:

“The short answer to the question is: I haven’t seen it either,” Lee says into the camera. “Even though I’ve been a member of this working group assigned to help narrow some of the focus of this, I haven’t seen the bill.”

Lee was referring to an original group of 13 Republicans who started meeting to discuss an Obamacare overhaul. He expressed disappointment that the group was sidelined as leadership led the bill-writing process, and that they’ve not even seen text yet even though they’re being pressured to vote next week on it.

“It’s not being written by us — it’s apparently being written by a small handful of staffers or members of the Republican leadership in the Senate,” Lee said. “So if you’re frustrated by the lack of transparency in this process, I share your frustration, I share it wholeheartedly.”

“There’s no question that the American people need relief from Obamacare…. The big question is what we’re going to do about it and why we have to act so quickly that we necessarily have to be voting on it next week,” he continued. “I’d be fine, don’t get me wrong, to be voting on something soon. But we should be able to see it first. We should have been able to see it weeks ago if we’re going to be voting on it next week.”

While Lee’s support is still in question, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) will almost certainly be among the “no” votes; he trashed the measure yesterday, saying it might just be best to start over:

From Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur:

— As for Democrats, they’re pulling all sorts of publicity stunts to register their displeasure at both the process and the policy. Yesterday, Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) livestreamed a visit to the Congressional Budget Office to search for the “super secret health-care bill.” From Booker communications director Kristin Lynch:

“We’re actually going down to see if we can get the Republican health-care bill. Do you know anything about that?” Booker asked the cab driver at the start of his livestream.

Along their journey down the street, the senators chided the “secretive, behind-closed-doors” tactics used by Republicans in crafting the bill.

“All we’re asking … we understand they have the majority and if they can get to 51 they’re going to be able to enact what they’re going to enact,” Schatz said. “But they’re so afraid of the American people finding out what’s in this bill that they’re hiding it from everybody, including United States senators, until the very last moment.”

“It’s not as if we haven’t begged our Republican colleagues to be part of the process. We wouldn’t be doing this if we hadn’t already been shut down in every way possible by the Republicans,” Murphy added.

Booker noted it would take just three Republicans to halt the whole process by refusing to back the bill.

The senators — and others — tweeted about their staged hunt for the health-care bill:

— Upon arriving at the CBO, the senators weren’t able to get a copy of the bill after asking the agency’s director for it. So they took a selfie instead:

From the Hill’s Rachel Roubein:

“We’re trying to point out the absurd today,” Booker said after the CBO wouldn’t share the bill with them. “This is absolutely offensive…. It’s an a-historical, a-democratic affront to the American public by not allowing them to be involved or engaged in the process.”

The Onion even made fun of the “missing” Senate health-care bill:

— Come visit us at One Franklin Square from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. this morning for Post Live’s “Addiction in America” panel discussion. Policymakers, researchers and health-care experts will explore the roots of the opioid crisis, discuss solutions for combating addiction and describe what’s being done to address the abuse of opioids as recreational drugs. 

Speakers include Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), PhRMA research VP Anne Pritchett, former congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and Brandeis University professor Andrew Kolodny. Full agenda here. And watch here if you can’t make it in person.


One more thing: I was at the U2 concert along with many other D.C. folks last night. Look who showed up, onstage nonetheless:

AHH: Republican Karen Handel defeated Democrat Jon Ossoff yesterday, after a months-long campaign and the most expensive House race in history. Staving off a major upset in Georgia’s ruby-red 6th congressional district, Handel won with about 52 percent of the vote, retaining a seat that has belonged to a Republican since 1979 and becoming the first Republican woman elected to Congress from Georgia.

In her victory speech, Handel told supporters “we need to finish the drill on health care.” Chants of “Trump! Trump! Trump!” erupted before her, my colleagues Robert Costa, Paul Kane and Elise Viebeck report.

Handel’s victory “may embolden Republicans in Washington to press ahead on an ambitious policy agenda that has yielded few legislative victories since Trump’s inauguration in January,” they write. “Most immediately, the election result could bring momentum to Senate Republicans’ efforts this week to craft their version of a major revision to the Affordable Care Act.” More about Handel’s position on health care from STAT News and from my colleague James Hohmann over at The Daily 202.

The special election was also seen as a referendum on President Trump  the latest in a string of special election losses for Democrats, a fact that Trump himself pointed out on Twitter after the race was called Tuesday night: 


Abortion opponents said Handel’s victory is a mark against Planned Parenthood, which had vociferously opposed her. Handel was famously forced out of the Susan G. Komen Foundation back in 2012, after she had advised the breast cancer charity to cut ties with the women’s health and abortion provider.

From Susan B. Anthony’s Marjorie Dannenfelser:

Some Democrats mourned the loss but said it means they need to dig in deeper against the GOP health-care effort:

From former Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor:

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