Texas conservative firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz and three of his colleagues in the U.S. Senate announced Thursday they oppose the latest proposed Republican health care overhaul — potentially imperiling the bill, which otherwise received widespread support from other officials in this GOP-dominated state.
Their announcement came just hours after the Senate’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, unveiled the secretly drafted legislation, which proposes dramatic cuts to former President Barack Obama’s signature health care program — long an anathema to conservative activists.
“Currently, for a variety of reasons, we are not ready to vote for this bill, but we are open to negotiation and obtaining more information before it is brought to the floor,” Cruz said in a statement, joined by Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky.
They added: “There are provisions in this draft that represent an improvement to our current health care system but it does not appear this draft as written will accomplish the most important promise that we made to Americans: to repeal Obamacare and lower their health care costs.”
Texas’s other U.S. senator, John Cornyn, a member of McConnell’s GOP leadership team, unsurprisingly said he was on board.
“After years of debate, hearings, and stories from folks harmed by Obamacare, today is a critical step towards delivering on our promise to provide the relief Texans so desperately need,” Cornyn said in a statement.
When asked by The Dallas Morning News for his reaction to the four GOP senators’ opposition, Cornyn called it “part of a process.”
McConnell’s 142-page draft would slash Medicaid spending, give states more authority to reshape their Medicaid programs, repeal nearly $1 trillion in taxes mostly for corporations and the wealthy, eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, and waive the requirement that Americans purchase health insurance.
Senate Republicans have said they hope to pass the bill before the Fourth of July recess, but opposition from the quartet could complicate those plans.
McConnell can only afford to lose two Republican votes — with a tie-breaking vote coming from Vice President Mike Pence — as Democrats remain united in opposition to the proposal.
The political terrain McConnell must navigate to find 50 votes is complex: Attempts to gain the support of Cruz and the other Tea Party senators could drive away moderate GOP senators, whose votes he also needs. Susan Collins, of Maine, already faces an advertising campaign back home urging her to vote no; meanwhile Nevada’s Sen. Dean Heller said Thursday he had “serious concerns” about the bill’s Medicaid provisions.
Meanwhile, Democrats railed against McConnell’s bill and the cloak of secrecy that shrouded its development: There were no hearings on this bill before it was released Thursday and debate is expected to be limited to just ten hours before its passage.
“Now we can see why they have kept this scheme so secret, and why they still offer no independent report on its true harm,” said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, in a statement that reflected the sentiments of Senate Democrats. “What Trump called a ‘mean, mean, mean’ bill just got meaner.”
Some Republicans blasted McConnell’s process, too, before the bill’s release.
“I am not a reporter, and I am not a lobbyist, so I’ve seen nothing,” said U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowskicq, another moderate McConnell must keep happy.
The potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act was a point of contention in state budget negotiations during the most recent legislative session.
State Rep. John Zerwas, the Texas House’s top budget writer, said the GOP health care bill, if passed, would give states more power to determine eligibility and benefits for Medicaid, the state-federal health care plan for the poor and disabled.
During the legislative session, Zerwas, R-Richmond, proposed cutting Medicaid by $1 billion in anticipation of a GOP-led Obamacare overhaul. His plan, which was nixed by the state Senate, might prove to have been prescient if the repeal passes.
“Our idea was the federal government would cede the management of the Medicaid program to the state, and they would provide whatever the level of funding is that they deem appropriate,” Zerwas said. “If that in fact happened, then we could probably deliver the program in a more cost effective way without compromising quality and access.”
That “flexibility” not come cheaply. Zerwas warned that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission would need more resources to develop new expertise to properly manage Medicaid in the state.
Democrats, anti-poverty activists and some religious groups oppose the move, saying it will lead to more low-income families being cut from Texas’s Medicaid program, which is already among the nation’s stingiest.
“Generally when Republicans talk about flexibility in Medicaid, what they’re talking is finding new ways to deny access to health care to Texans,” said state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus. “Despite repeated Republican attempts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, the law has still resulted in more than 1 million Texans gaining health insurance.”
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct a quote from Texas Rep. John Zerwas.