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Key GOP Senators Mum on ‘Skinny’ Repeal Support

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn has said it is important to get to a conference committee with the House on health care legislation. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn has said it is important to get to a conference committee with the House on health care legislation. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Key Republican swing votes are withholding judgement on a plan from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to pass a “skinny” bill to repeal the 2010 health law in order to get to conference with the House.

That approach, however, has won early support from a number of GOP members, as Republicans look to try to continue a dialogue around a broader health care overhaul package after this week.

Such a “skinny” measure would likely only repeal the individual and employer mandate and an excise tax on medical device manufacturers included in the law, lawmakers say, with the inclusion of a few other provisions possible.

Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, who just a few weeks earlier expressed deep concerns with the GOP proposal to revamp the U.S. health insurance system before voting on Tuesday in support of a motion to proceed to debate on a House-passed repeal and replace measure, said he viewed the slimmed down approach “favorably.”

“It’s good for the state of Nevada. Everything I’ve said I’m going to do at this point will be what’s best for the state. Right now, Medicaid expansion has worked for the state of Nevada, so the skinny bill eliminates any reforms, entitlement reforms, out of the bill,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “I’ve always said I’m for health care reform, I’m not for entitlement reform, and that makes it a health care reform bill and not an entitlement reform bill.”

Watch as Senators Debate Health Care Overhaul on Wednesday

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When asked about the potential impact on his state if such a measure, which experts warn could cause insurers to flee the individual market, were to take effect, Heller said he thought the “mandates and everything that’s in this bill frankly didn’t work for the state of Nevada, so we’re just trying to cobble something together that works for the state.”

Other Republican members who have been skeptical of the health care process to date, however, are waiting to see exactly what would be included in that “skinny” bill before making a decision.

“I have not taken a position on that. I haven’t seen it and I haven’t taken a position,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said. “We’ll just have to see what happens this week and make those judgements.”

“I don’t know yet,” Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio said when asked about his thoughts on the approach. “I’ve heard, like, four different iterations of it, some of which include some things I like, like the $45 billion opioid fund, and others don’t.”

Portman did not explicitly say whether he would prefer to go to conference with the House on a possible repeal and replace bill.

“It depends,” he told reporters when asked about his preference. “It could add some of the things that I like.”

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said a number of measures, including an amendment from Portman to add $100 billion to a stability fund to help states transition individuals off of the Medicaid program, could be added in conference.

“I think all we’re looking at is a way to get to that conference quick, and so we can begin to have those discussions and get a result,” he said on Wednesday.

An updated version of the Senate GOP proposal to repeal and replace portions of the health law that included the $100 billion Portman amendment failed on Tuesday after Republicans were unable to overcome an objection raised by Democrats over the lack of analysis from the Congressional Budget Office on the impact of that addition.

As Democrats and Republicans continue to battle it out on the Senate floor ahead of Thursday’s anticipated vote-a-rama, where nearly unlimited amendments can be offered by either party, a bipartisan health care meeting is scheduled to take place Wednesday evening, a Democratic aide confirmed to Roll Call.

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