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Republicans Prepare for a Vote on Health Care Next Week

Senate Democrats are beginning a full court press to highlight the speed and secrecy of GOP efforts to overhaul the nation's health care system.
Image: Mitch McConnell, Orrin Hatch
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., (C) joined by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, (L) speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill on July 30, 2013 in Washington. FileJ. Scott Applewhite / AP File

WASHINGTON — Republicans are preparing for a series of votes next week on a plan to overhaul the nation's health care system.

There is no GOP bill yet for the public to see and even rank-and-file Republicans have yet to see any text of legislation. There isn't even an agreement that has leadership confident that they have 50 votes to pass a bill. But the expectation on Capitol Hill is there will be an outline of a proposal as soon as Wednesday, according to two Republican aides, aiming for a vote next week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been pushing for a vote before June 30th, the beginning of the one-week July 4th recess. But his lieutenants in leadership drove speculation that a vote could in fact happen in the next two weeks.

“We have 52 Republican Senators all wanting to get to yes to find a solution and I believe we’re going to vote before the July 4th recess," Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., the fourth ranking Republican, said on CNBC Monday morning.

McConnell is hoping to finish health care as soon as possible in order to move on to other priorities, including tax reform and a looming, mandatory vote on raising the debt ceiling.

But agreements have not been reached among Republicans yet on key sticking points, including Medicaid, opioid treatment and how to help people with pre-existing conditions pay for insurance.

Anticipating an imminent vote on health care as soon as next week, Senate Democrats began a full-court press to highlight their opposition to the GOP legislation, seeking to draw attention to a secretive legislative process that could dramatically scale back Medicaid and alter the individual insurance market.

Democrats plan to take to the Senate floor throughout Monday evening for a "talk-a-thon" to discuss a potential bill they haven't seen and can't stop without the votes of at least three GOP senators if and when it reaches the floor.

And they are looking to use all parliamentary procedures available to them to slow down not only any business related to health care but any other Senate business, including floor votes and committee hearings.

Democrats, led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, began their opposition by asking for a series of consent agreements, including to send the health care bill through the Senate Finance and Health Committees. They also asked that the health care bill not alter veterans health care. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell objected to all requests.

"I would renew my request to the majority leader — what is the harm of us gathering in the Old Senate Chamber — 100 senators, Democrats and Republicans — and trying to maybe come together? Is there any harm?" Schumer said.

"I think we'll have ample opportunity to read and amend the bill," McConnell said in reaction to Democratic complaints.

Democrats in recent weeks have increasingly voiced alarm with the speed and secrecy of Senate Republicans as they seek to hammer out their version of the bill passed by the House last month, noting frequently that the passage of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, happened after a year of hearings and more than 25 days’ worth of debate.

“If Republicans won’t relent and debate their health care bill in the open for the American people to see, then they shouldn’t expect business as usual in the Senate,” said Schumer. “Republicans are drafting this bill in secret because they’re ashamed of it, plain and simple.”

Starting Monday, Democrats will object to all requests in the Senate to proceed to any business on the Senate floor, which requires unanimous consent or a vote that requires the support of 60 votes, according to a Democratic aide.

News conferences and a flurry of social media activity should also be expected over the next two weeks from Democrats as well. Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., are using their profiles to publicly draw opposition to the health care bill, including a Facebook Live event Monday afternoon.