WASHINGTON May 9 Barely two days into crafting
a new bill to roll back Obamacare, U.S. Senate Republicans were
already on the defensive on Tuesday over the absence of any
women in their core working group.
After a meeting of the Senate healthcare group, lawmakers
were bombarded with questions as to why no women were named to
the 13-man panel. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried
"The working group that counts is all 52 of us," McConnell
told reporters, referring to all 52 Republican senators in the
100-member chamber. "Nobody is being excluded based upon gender
... Everybody's at the table. Everybody."
Democrats pounced. Republican men are negotiating "a secret
healthcare plan, which I really hope is not happening in the
men's locker room," said Senator Patty Murray, a member of the
Democratic leadership from Washington state.
If the criticism was any sign of what lies ahead as senators
try to improve on a rollback bill passed on Thursday by House of
Representatives Republicans, it could be a long road ahead.
Dismantling the parts of President Barack Obama's signature
healthcare law that they dislike and preserving other parts of
it is proving to be a difficult task for President Donald Trump
and his fellow Republicans.
A House of Representatives’ plan for doing that, approved
last week amid much drama, faces an uncertain future in the
Senate. Some Republicans eye drafting a similar Senate bill by
mid-summer, possibly with the involvement of Democrats. Others
indicate the House bill requires major surgery and that the
effort to replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as
Obamacare, could take months.
Regardless of timing, two decisive factors will come into
sharper focus soon. One is voter reaction to the House bill, now
being voiced in town hall events being hosted nationwide by
House members in their home districts.
The other factor is an expected analysis by the non-partisan
Congressional Budget Office of how many million Americans would
lose their health insurance coverage under the House bill, if it
became law, and how it would affect the U.S. budget deficit.
Both the CBO analysis and the town hall events have the
potential to do damage to the House legislation, which Trump
hailed as a triumph just days ago.
Senators are already talking about major changes in the
House bill concerning Medicaid, the government healthcare
program for the poor, and tax subsidies for healthcare coverage.
Trying to get past the controversy over the absence of women
on the healthcare panel, Senate Republicans said they expected
to devote much time to healthcare in the near future.
"I don't think we're going to be talking about much else
other than healthcare at least three days a week with all
members of our conference present," said Senator John Cornyn,
the No. 2 Republican.
Cornyn said senators would start with the House bill.
"If we have to make modifications in order to pass it, we’ll
make those modifications and work out the differences with the
Medicaid was the topic at the Senate working group meeting
Tuesday. The House bill would cut federal spending on Medicaid
by $880 billion over 10 years. But some Republicans want any
reductions to be more gradual, and Trump made a campaign pledge
not to cut the program.
"There ought to be a glide path where you do not have a
cliff that the House provides in 2020," when the expansion of
Medicaid under Obamacare is abruptly ended, said Senator Rob
Portman of Ohio.
But other Republicans said cutbacks were important to save
"The public wants every dime you can give them. Let's face
it, once you get them on the dole, they are going to take every
dime they can. We've got to find some way of getting things
under control, or this country and your future’s going to be
gone," said Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, a member of the
healthcare working group.
(Additional reporting by Amanda Becker and David Morgan;
Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Cynthia Osterman)