Republican healthcare bill heads to Senate, where it may undergo drastic changes

Senators caution that their version ‘would be a blank sheet of paper’ to start and signal they will pursue budget reconciliation process, which limits scope of bill.

As House Republicans cheered the “beginning of the end” of the Affordable Care Act at a celebration in the White House Rose Garden on Thursday, Senate Republicans welcomed the bill with muted fanfare.

After weeks of fits and starts, House Republicans had narrowly passed a proposalto repeal and replace Obamacare and voted to forward to the Senate a bill that is both unpopular with the American public and unlikely to pass the chamber in its current form.

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, hailed the vote as “an important step” and a “job well done”. But Republicans in the upper chamber swiftly vowed to draft their own healthcare legislation rather than take up the House-passed American Health Care Act.

“We are going to draft a Senate bill,” Iowa senator Chuck Grassley told reporters on Capitol Hill. “That is what I’ve been told.”

Bill Cassidy, a senator from Louisiana who has been pushing his own Obamacare replacement plan, echoed the sentiment.

“I was given the impression it would be a blank sheet of paper,” he said, while adding of the House-passed legislation: “I’m not sure this is the last bill.”

The widespread caution among Republicans in the Senate was reflective of both the obstacles and limitations they foresee ahead. Republicans hold just 52 seats in the upper chamber and thus can afford to lose no more than two votes.

And so while House Republicans marked the moment by hopping on buses to the White House, their counterparts in the Senate warned of a long and windy road that could last anywhere from weeks to months before a vote.

“I can’t imagine less than six weeks of a process for us,” said Oklahoma senator James Lankford, while adding of the House-passed bill: “It’s a skeleton, but it’s definitely not the final product.”

The widespread consensus among Republicans was that it was difficult to truly weigh in on the House legislation due to the hurried process through which it was passed. Most Senate Republicans confessed to not knowing what was even in the House bill and declined to take an explicit position absent a score from the Congressional Budget Office.

“I’m not so sure this is good civics here – a bill [that has] not been scored, not been amended – but it is what it is,” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Citing concerns with preexisting conditions and changes to Medicaid, Graham said the final drafting “will be done by the Senate”.

“The Senate is the place still, in my view, where you deliberate, you have a say, you vote,” he said.

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