Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., center, accompanied by fellow GOP lawmakers, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 25, 2014, following a GOP caucus lunch.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

GOP senators still unsure which health care bill they hope to pass

There was an interesting moment on “Fox News Sunday” yesterday when host Chris Wallace asked Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) a good question: “As the number three Republican in the Senate, do you know what you’re going to be voting on next week?”

The South Dakota Republican responded by talking a bit about Senate procedure, before complaining about the Affordable Care Act, so the host tried again, asking what GOP leaders intend to bring forward as their party’s health care bill. Thune responded:

“I think ultimately that’s a judgment that [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell will make at some point this week before the vote, depending on how these discussions go.”

Let that sink in for a moment. Republican leaders will decide “at some point this week” what health care legislation senators will vote on this week. As of yesterday, GOP senators had no idea what bill it might be, and as of this morning, there’s still broad uncertainty.

The first vote, kicking off the process, is scheduled for tomorrow.

This isn’t how legislating in the United States is supposed to work on any issue, but it’s especially indefensible when dealing with life-or-death policymaking.

But while there are some core details we don’t know – such as what bill is likely to come to the floor – there are other facts that have come into sharp focus. We learned late last week from the Congressional Budget Office, for example, that the latest iteration of McConnell’s plan would push 22 million Americans into the ranks of the uninsured over the next decade and push deductibles dramatically higher.

The CBO report on this Republican plan did not include Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) controversial amendment, which is apparently being scored separately.

We also know that the GOP’s approach ran into some serious trouble last week at the hands of the Senate parliamentarian. Vox explained:

The Senate would likely need 60 votes to overcome Democratic opposition and pass key portions of the GOP health care bill under the chamber’s rules, a blow to both the plan’s policy and its political fortunes unless Senate Republicans are willing to break decades of precedent or the bill is substantially rewritten.

The Senate’s so-called “Byrd Rule” is designed to make sure policies passed under “budget reconciliation” – which allows legislation to advance with only 51 votes instead of the usual 60 needed to get past a filibuster – directly affect the federal budget, either by decreasing spending or by increasing revenue.

The findings are online in this three-page report. Note that some of the most problematic provisions relate to Republican efforts to restrict abortions – and without these parts of the bill, conservative GOP senators will have even less of an incentive to go along.

If we don’t know what bill will be on the floor, we can’t say with confidence what to expect. It’s worth noting, however, that some Republican leaders have begun speculating about what the party will do if this week’s efforts fail, which suggests they’re not entirely confident about the outcome.

Health Care, John Thune and Mitch McConnell

GOP senators still unsure which health care bill they hope to pass