Senate May Vote This Week on Health Care Bill, But Which One?

By Susan Jones | July 24, 2017 | 5:56am EDT
The Senate is voting this week on a motion to proceed to a vote on a health care bill. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

( - The Senate is voting this week on a motion to proceed to debate on a health care bill -- but which one?

Appearing on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she doesn't know:

Well, it's a good question about what's going to be happening next week. It appears that we will have a vote on Tuesday, but we don’t know whether we're going to be voting on the House bill, the first version of the Senate bill, the second version of the Senate bill, a new version of the Senate bill, or a 2015 bill that would have repealed the Affordable Care Act now and then said that somehow we’ll figure out a replacement over the next two years.

“It’s voting to open debate,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) told “Fox News Sunday. “It’s a procedural vote,” he explained -- a vote to proceed to debate on the bill passed by the House of Representatives, which opens the House bill to all amendments – including an amendment to substitute one of the Senate bills for the House bill.

“There will be an opportunity for Democrats…to offer their amendments, for Republican colleagues to offer theirs to try and improve and strengthen the bill. But you can't do that unless you get on the bill,” Thune said.

“So the first vote, which will occur sometime this week, will be to proceed to consideration of that legislation and to at least have a debate where we can have an open amendment process and give people a chance to be heard.”

Host Chris Wallace asked Thune which Senate bill McConnell may substitute – “Is that going to be repeal or repeal-and-replace?” he asked.

I think ultimately that's a judgment that Senator McConnell will make at some point this week before the vote, depending on how these discussions go,” Thune replied. “If we can reach an agreement among Republicans about the Senate bill -- and I -- my own view is, and I'm speaking myself, I hope we do because I think the Senate bill (repeal and replace) does strike the right balance.

But one way or the other, we need to get on the bill in order to have that debate. And the leader will make that decision at some point about whether that's repeal, (or) repeal and replace. I hope it's repeal and replace.

But whether -- which camp you're in, you can't have a debate about either unless we get on the bill. So we need a ‘yes’ vote. That's the only way to change the status quo.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), appearing with Thune, noted that if the Senate does vote to proceed on the House bill, “we’re under what’s called reconciliation. And many of the amendments will not be in order because they have to deal directly with the fiscal issues because it's reconciliation. So we don't have an open process if we get on the bill. We have a very narrow opportunity to really change this bill.”

Thune said if Republicans refuse to proceed on the bill from the outset – or if they later block the substituted Senate bill, they will be voting for the “status quo.”

And if that happens, “we’ll go back to the drawing board and we'll get a bill up. We are going to vote to repeal and replace Obamacare. The question is not -- it's not a question of if, it's a question of when.

"My argument, Chris, is that we need to do it sooner rather than later, which is the argument that the president made, because this thing is spiraling out of control. Obamacare is in a death spiral. You have seen, since 2013, premiums in this country in the individual marketplace have more than doubled. You've got markets that are in a free fall, in a collapse, and something has to be done sooner.

"And I think that's why we need to get on the bill and start this debate. And then if people want to amend it, it is an open amendment process. There will be unlimited amendments that can be offered and in the -- and the United States Senate will have an opportunity to work its will. But that can't happen -- we can't change the status quo less we get on the bill," Thune said.

President Donald Trump tweeted on Sunday: “If Republicans don't Repeal and Replace the disastrous ObamaCare, the repercussions will be far greater than any of them understand!”

Sen. Susan Collins opposes a straight repeal bill without a replacement.

“What I would like to see us do is to go back into committee,” Collins said. “Lamar Alexander, the Chairman of the Senate Health Committee, has already indicated his willingness to hold hearings.

“We could divide this issue into separate bills and take a look at the serious flaws in the Affordable Care Act, the most serious of which right now is the collapse of the insurance market in several counties throughout this country so that people who have subsidies won’t have an insurer that can sell them insurance.

“That would allow us to hear from expert witnesses to get input from actuaries, and governors, and advocacy groups, and health care providers and most important from members of both sides of the aisle, Republicans as well as Democrats.”

Democrats also are pushing for committee hearings.

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