WASHINGTON (Reuters)—Democratic leaders in the U.S. Congress on Monday demanded that lawmakers wait to find out the budgetary and healthcare impacts of a new, last-ditch legislative effort by Republicans to repeal Obamacare before voting on it.
In their long-running war on former President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law, Senate Republicans are now proposing to replace it with a system that would give states money in block grants to run their own healthcare programs.
Drafted by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), the bill was introduced last week. Graham and Cassidy said they were close to securing the votes needed for passage, but the bill’s outlook was uncertain.
If approved, it would replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act, known informally as Obamacare, which Republicans have long seen as government overreach into the healthcare business.
The Graham-Cassidy measure has revived a fight that many in Washington thought was over when an Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill flopped in the Senate in July, humiliating Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and President Donald Trump.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a non-partisan fiscal analysis unit of Congress, said Monday it will make a preliminary assessment of the bill’s impact next week. But it said it won’t be able to estimate the impact on the deficit or changes in insurance coverage or premiums for several weeks.
Worried Democrats seized on the statement to urge Republicans to wait for a full CBO score before holding a vote.
“Have the courage and decency to wait for a CBO score,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor on Monday. The House of Representatives is on a break this week.
Schumer called Graham-Cassidy a “Frankenstein monster of a bill” that would be costly for some states. He said Democrats would use every procedural tool to slow or stop its passage.
Stock prices fell for small hospital chains that have high corporate debt loads and that likely would be hurt under the plan’s probable decrease in government payments for patients.
Community Health Systems fell 37 cents, or 5%, to $7.24 and Tenet Healthcare was off 98 cents, or 6 percent, at $15.76 in late afternoon trading.
A delay to wait for a CBO analysis is something Republicans can ill afford since in two weeks Senate procedural rules will make it much more difficult for them to advance the legislation.
A special parliamentary procedure that would allow the bill to move forward in the Senate with only 51 votes will expire in two weeks. After that, it would need 60 votes, like most Senate legislation. Republicans have a slim 52-vote Senate majority.