House Republicans leaders are instructing lawmakers to hold off leaving for August recess this weekend in case the Senate passes Obamacare repeal legislation and the House comes under pressure to act.
In an email to lawmakers Thursday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), raised the possibility that they might need to take votes in the coming days if the Senate approves a health care bill. House Republicans are also gearing up to waive chamber rules mandating they wait three days after a bill is made public to vote on the legislation on the floor, what’s known as “martial law” in the House.
The latter gives Republicans flexibility to take up the Senate repeal bill immediately.
“While last votes are currently scheduled to take place tomorrow, Members are advised that — pending Senate action on health care — the House schedule is subject to change,” McCarthy’s announcement to members reads. “All Members should remain flexible in their travel plans over the next few days.”
Senate Republicans are moving toward a critical vote on a narrow repeal bill they hope will keep the GOP’s long-stall health care effort alive. Should their so-called “skinny repeal” bill pass, House Republicans will have several options for next steps — none of them received well in the more conservative lower chamber.
Most senior Republican lawmakers agree the House cannot pass the Senate’s “skinny repeal” — nor do they want to, viewing it as a watered down shell unworthy of enactment. The legislation would repeal the Obamacare mandates and some taxes but leave subsidies and Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion in place.
House members may be forced to try to pass the bill, however, should President Donald Trump put the weight of the White House behind it. And multiple House Republicans sources say leaders have been gauging what such a vote might look like.
It wouldn’t be pretty. Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told Ryan on the House floor Thursday afternoon that such a bill would, essentially, go down in flames.
“I can assure this isn’t going to the president,” he said.
More likely, the House and Senate would go to conference — though multiple House Republicans said privately they were skeptical about that idea as well. The House would need to vote to instruct conferees to move down that path, another reason why they may have to delay August recess by a day or two.
“Until we actually know what [the Senate bill looks like], it’s just too hard to plan,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a member of the whip team. “We’ve got to see it, and we’ve got to figure out what the White House attitude is toward it.”
During a Thursday morning whip meeting, Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) detailed the various ways the House could proceed. Leaders cannot make a decision until they see the final text of the Senate bill and get input from the White House.
It’s unclear whether Trump, eager for a win during a tumultuous time for his administration, will tell members he would sign the bare-bones plan. White House sources have said for months that the president isn’t focused on policy specifics; his priority is signing something to make good on his campaign promise.
That’s why most House GOP leaders are not panning the Senate’s slimmer repeal idea. During a press conference Thursday morning, Ryan said, “I’m going to reserve judgment until I see what the Senate actually produces.”
Republicans also knocked down a Democratic attempt to limit the fast-tracking “martial law” authority to only votes that go to conference. In other words, Republicans opted to maintain flexibility so they could bring the “skinny” bill to the floor.
Ryan’s team may need to give an answer soon, however. Three Senate Republicans Thursday afternoon vowed to block “skinny” repeal’s passage unless Ryan vowed he would go to conference — not try to jam the legislation through the House.
Rank-and-file Republicans in the House, meanwhile, have made clear they don’t like the Senate’s bill.
“That’s just a vehicle for getting us to conference. I don’t think that’s a serious effort to fix the health care system,” said Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), who played a key role in the House’s repeal effort.
“I don’t think that’s going to help — skinny repeal is a way to get it conference,” agreed Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.). “The problem is, premiums have gone through the roof.”
Asked if he thought the Senate bill would bring down premiums, he answered: “I don’t. I don’t.”
Even House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Or.), who’s intentionally tried to give the Senate room to maneuver, seemed uneasy with the path the Senate had taken.
“The parliamentarian just ruled the 1132 waiver provision out, which is really problematic,” he said, referring to a provision that helped win over the Freedom Caucus in the House.
That policy — allowing states to opt-out of Obamacare insurance regulations — was struck under Senate procedural rules.
Walden said he’s not sure how much time it will take for the House to come up with a plan.
“It depends on what they send,” he said. “What is it that we can send back or can we just pass?… Is there something we can do in conference? Is there not? All the options remain on the table.”
Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.