Democrats are walking a fine line as they try to keep their caucus unified ahead of a showdown on repealing and replacing ObamaCare.
The Senate is expected to start up an hours-long marathon session, known as a vote-a-rama, as soon as Thursday, giving both parties a chance to try to force the other side of the aisle to take politically tough votes.
The free-wheeling floor drama could give Republicans a shot at putting the spotlight on Democrats. As GOP senators have been beset by months of outside ads and waves of angry constituents, Democrats have been largely unified despite having 10 senators up for reelection in states won by President Trump.
Leadership and liberal senators have voiced concerns about supporting GOP amendments that would move the bill toward the middle and potentially help Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellDems don’t want to help GOP improve repeal bill Bipartisan group of governors call on GOP to reject skinny repeal Dems get CBO scores on what they think skinny bill will look like MORE (R-Ky.) pick up key moderates he will ultimately need if he wants to get a healthcare bill through the Senate.
Pressed about the potential tightrope, Sen. Chris MurphyChris MurphyDems don’t want to help GOP improve repeal bill Tough road ahead for McConnell on ObamaCare Dem senator: Trump’s ‘icky’ Boy Scout speech left ‘my stomach in knots’ MORE (D-Conn.) predicted that Democrats would “take it one amendment at a time,” but wouldn’t want to inadvertently help a bill that nixes large swaths of the Affordable Care Act clear the upper chamber.
“I’m not interested in doing anything to help this bill pass. We always have the opportunity to offer side-by-sides. We’ll have a lot of amendments. I’m sure they’ll have a lot of amendments,” he said.
Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinDems don’t want to help GOP improve repeal bill Mnuchin: Trump administration examining online sales tax issue Senate Dem: We’re trying to block a recess appointment to replace Sessions MORE (D-Ill.) added that Democratic leadership could offer competing amendments to try to keep the focus on their concerns about how the GOP legislation was crafted — behind closed doors and with no public committee hearings.
“We’re giving our members, when such amendments are offered, we’re going to give them a clear choice, side-by-side amendments that address the same issue but commit the bill to hearings,” he said.
Pressed if that meant Democrats would vote against a potential GOP amendment that would bolster Medicaid, a policy they would normally support, Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, pivoted back to their push to have the bill go through the committee process.
“Ultimately we believe it should be a committee process and all of these elements should be included — let’s wait and see,” he said.
Democrats could face the possibility of having to vote against additional Medicaid funding. Sen. John McCainJohn McCainCanada responds to transgender ban: All are welcome to join Canadian forces Dems don’t want to help GOP improve repeal bill GOP senator: Trump transgender ban ‘deserves more than a Twitter conversation’ MORE (R-Ariz.), who returned to the Senate on Tuesday after being diagnosed with brain cancer, has filed three amendments to the House-passed healthcare bill, which is being used as a vehicle for any Senate action.
One of those proposals would extend the increased federal match for states’ Medicaid expansion through 2029. Another would increase the growth rate for Medicaid over the current Senate proposal, which is expected to cut and dramatically reshape the program.
Democrats have been quick to quote McCain this week after he lambasted his party’s closed-door process for crafting its healthcare legislation and urged his colleagues to work together and “trust each other.”
“Why don’t we try the old way of legislating in the Senate, the way our rules and customs encourage us to act? If this process ends in failure, which seems likely, then let’s return to regular order,” McCain said from the floor during a fiery speech.
Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles SchumerBipartisan group of governors call on GOP to reject skinny repeal Democrats threaten to play hardball on ObamaCare repeal Lawmakers push to toughen foreign lobbying rules MORE (D-N.Y.), when asked about McCain’s call for regular order, joked, “I could have written the same speech. I just would have voted differently.”
Asked if Democrats had decided to vote against GOP amendments, a spokesman for Schumer declined to discuss the caucus’s strategy.
Democrats plan to try to keep the spotlight on the need to abandon the GOP bill and Republicans’ public indecision about what kind of healthcare bill they want to pass.
In an example highlighting the strategy, Sen. Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellyDems don’t want to help GOP improve repeal bill GOP Senator forces Dems to vote on single payer GOP’s Messer to announce Senate bid against Donnelly next month MORE (D-Ind.) sought Wednesday to force the healthcare bill to be sent back to committee to have cuts to Medicaid removed. No Republican voted for the amendment.
Schumer predicted that the free-wheeling session would be harder for Republicans, despite the votes being used as potential 2018 fodder against Democrats.
“These votes frankly are a lot tougher for them than they are for us. They are squeezed in both directions. That’s why we have some degree of hope that they aren’t going to get this done,” he told reporters.
Democrats are signaling they expect to file hundreds of amendments. Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyDems don’t want to help GOP improve repeal bill OPINION | Shailene Woodley: US should run on renewable energy by 2050 Gore wishes Mikulski a happy birthday at ‘Inconvenient Sequel’ premiere MORE (D-Ore.) announced he had filed more than 100 amendments, while Murphy estimated that he had roughly 150 proposals — though he declined to detail what they included.
Democrats could use the amendment process to try to force Republicans to go on the record about higher insurance costs for low-income individuals or those with pre-existing conditions.
Schumer signaled on Wednesday evening that Democrats could play hardball until Republicans reveal their healthcare strategy.
“Democrats are not going to participate in this one-sided and broken process. Once the majority leader shows his hand, reveals what his bill will actually be, Democrats will use the opportunity to try and amend the bill,” he announced from the Senate floor.
Democrats aren’t closing the door completely to supporting GOP proposals, though several conveyed skepticism that one amendment could significantly improve the Senate healthcare bill.
Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinDems don’t want to help GOP improve repeal bill Mnuchin: Trump administration examining online sales tax issue Manchin on GOP lawmaker’s suggestion for a duel with female senators: I’ll ‘step outside with him’ MORE (D-W.Va.) said he was willing to support any amendment that helped West Virginia, but appeared frustrated by how Republicans were moving their healthcare bill.
“Democratic, Republican — if it makes things better, I’ll support it,” he said. “[But] to do what [they] just did and have no clue where we’re going doesn’t make any sense to me.”
He added that he is continuing to talk with GOP Sen. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsDems don’t want to help GOP improve repeal bill Bare bones repeal plan gains steam in Senate Overnight Healthcare: Senate rejects repeal-only ObamaCare plan | Ads target Heller, Capito over vote | Dem says ObamaCare repeal effort moving US ‘toward single-payer’ MORE (Maine) and others about trying to find a path on a bipartisan healthcare proposal outside of the current framework, predicting that ultimately roughly a dozen senators would need to come up with a deal.
“There’s going to be some reasonable people that find a reasonable pathway forward,” Manchin said. “I think we’ve got a shell of a bill right now.”
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