#UK Senate GOP health law repeal delivers wins to party’s wings


In this Dec. 1, 2015, photo, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., joined by Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, tells reporters that he’s confident he will have enough support on an effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act this week during a news conference following a GOP policy meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington. Senate Republican leaders seem to have accomplished a balancing act in their drive to dismantle President Barack Obama’s health care law and block Planned Parenthood’s funding. They’re poised to push a measure through the Senate stuffed with victories for conservatives and concessions for more moderate GOP senators facing competitive 2016 re-election races.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republican leaders seem to have carried out a delicate balancing act in their drive to dismantle President Barack Obama’s health care law and close the federal funds spigot to Planned Parenthood.

They’re poised to push through a measure that would bestow victories on both conservative Republicans and moderates, senators confronting the more competitive 2016 re-election races. For his part, Obama is primed to veto the bill when it reaches his desk. And Democrats say the GOP exercise is a partisan charade aimed at setting up Republicans to use the health care law as a wedge issue in the election campaign next year.

“Enough of this haranguing about Obamacare,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said. He said the bill “will pass, it will go to the president and he’ll veto it in about 10 seconds.”

The GOP says a veto will only help its presidential and congressional candidates by underscoring that Republican control of the White House and Congress could spell the end of the law they derisively label “Obamacare” and would imperil Planned Parenthood’s federal dollars.

“This is an exercise where failure was not an option,” John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate GOP leader, said Tuesday. He tacitly acknowledged the high expectations of many conservative voters that Republicans aggressively challenge Obama, calling the pending legislation “a mortal blow to Obamacare.”

Conservative senators are happy the measure before the Senate would all but kill the 2010 Affordable Care Act, effectively abrogating its requirements that individuals obtain health insurance and that large companies offer coverage to workers. The bill would also repeal the law’s expanded Medicaid coverage for lower-income people and its federal subsidies for those buying policies in insurance marketplaces, while repealing tax increases on items including medical devices.

For GOP senators facing tough re-election fights, the measure offers some relief: a two-year delay in its repeal of exchange subsidies and the Medicaid expansion, according to lawmakers. That would allow Republicans to argue that the bill creates a two-year bridge until the next president takes office and can offer a replacement health care plan. In the five years since the health statute became law, the GOP hasn’t coalesced behind a replacement proposal.

The delay in what would amount to a virtually full repeal also keeps the impact of the measure from being felt immediately. That could help GOP senators facing strong re-election challenges in Illinois, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania, which are among 30 states that have expanded Medicaid to thousands of voters.

Also included is extra money for drug abuse programs — $1 billion over two years, by one account. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who could face a tough race next year, said that money is “important to me, especially with a heroin epidemic in Ohio.”

Republicans are bringing the bill to the Senate floor 11 months before an election in which Democrats have a real chance of retaking majority control of a chamber the GOP controls by 54-46.

Democrats think the bill will help their candidates by underscoring the GOP’s desire to scuttle a health care program that has helped around 16 million additional Americans gain coverage. They also will zero in on the GOP’s efforts to slash federal money for Planned Parenthood, which provides health services to millions of women.

“Republicans should have gotten their fill of political attacks on women’s health. But clearly, they haven’t,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

After weeks of closed-door strategizing, GOP leaders said they finally had a package that would pass the Senate by week’s end.

That suggests they had corralled at least 51 votes for the measure. Republicans avoided the need for 60 votes to overcome Democratic procedural moves to kill the measure by using a streamlined procedure available for deficit-cutting legislation.

“We finally have a chance to vote to end Obamacare’s cycle of broken promises and failures with a simple majority vote,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Getting to 51 votes has been tricky for the GOP.

Presidential candidates Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas had warned that a House-approved version of the bill was too weak. But Cornyn said the Senate bill was “bigger and better” than the House’s.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said changes to the measure have helped attract “those who’ve said they weren’t going to support the House-passed bill,” a seeming reference to Cruz, Rubio and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who jointly issued that threat.

On the other end of the party spectrum, moderates including Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois, who faces re-election in 2016, and Susan Collins of Maine, were concerned about the bill’s Planned Parenthood cuts. The organization has faced Republican attacks this year for providing fetal tissue to researchers.

Democrats said they might offer amendments that, while doomed, could provide fodder for campaign ads next year.

These included a proposal to let Planned Parenthood keep its federal money — $450 million out of its $1.3 billion yearly budget.

Another provision would block gun purchases for people designated as terrorists or terror suspects by the government. Democrats have pushed this initiative even harder in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris last month.

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