As a convoy of cots, coffee and Chipotle rolled into the Capitol, turning the halls of the Senate into a hotel Thursday night into Friday, Republican senators unveiled the latest bill to repeal parts Obamacare, with its text made public mere hours before the potentially landmark vote.
The bill dubbed, “skinny repeal,” indicating a bare minimum of elements from Obamacare that would be repealed, was officially unveiled as the Health Care Freedom Act just after 10 p.m. Thursday. Senators prepared for a marathon night of debate and voting on possible amendments, scrambling after the effort had been kept in secrecy.
“I think we’re entitled, if we’re going to jump off the cliff, to know how we’re going to land before we’re in mid-air,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said in an interview Thursday. “We ought to find a replacement before we take such a precipitous step.”
The Health Care Freedom Act would do the following:
- Repeal the individual mandate
- Repeal the employer mandate for eight years
- Repeal the medical device tax
- Defund Planned Parenthood for a year
- Increase caps on tax-free contributions to health savings accounts
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the legislation would restore freedom to aspects of health care that Obamacare took away.
"Passing this legislation will allow us to work with our colleagues in the House to work for a final bill to repeal Obamacare," McConnell said. "I would urge everyone to support it."
But just after 11 p.m. Thursday, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said the latest effort would result in 16 million more people without insurance by 2026.
The CBO also projected premiums in the individual market would increase by 20 percent from 2018 through 2026.
“The right answer is for this one-party secret effort to fail, and for the committee to tackle the issue in a bipartisan way,” Kaine said.
“We have a committee in the Senate that I’m on, that’s supposed to be working on healthcare. But [Republicans] have not allowed us to see the bill, to have a hearing, to hear from a patient, a doctor, a nurse.”
A vote on the bill is expected after midnight. Senators could then continue to add elements to the legislation into the early morning hours.
If the bill ultimately passes the Senate Friday, it remains unclear if House and Senate will then work together to add more fixes to the bill through a conference committee. If a conference committee is skipped, the bill would quickly head to a House vote, then to the president’s desk.