KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
The Senate is entering its third straight day of debate over health care. So far Republicans have failed to come up with a proposal that would fulfill their promise to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Today Republican leaders are hoping to pass a final measure senators are calling the skinny repeal. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is on this story. She joins us now from the Capitol. And, Sue, I have to say we've got to stop meeting like this
MCEVERS: So tell us, what is skinny repeal?
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Skinny repeal - maybe think of it more like bare-boned repeal. What this proposal is, is essentially leaders are looking to find the bare minimum of the parts of undoing Obamacare that Republicans have long said they support - things like repealing the individual mandate that tells people they have to buy insurance, some of the taxes that were levied when the ACA passed, defunding Planned Parenthood for one year and waivers for insurance companies to get out of some of the mandates for coverage.
Some combination of that is all being talked about. And the goal is to put the most bare-boned package on the floor that can get 50 votes. Not so this bill will become law, but so they can send this legislation into what is known as a conference committee. Just think of it as a third round of negotiations on health care where the House and Senate would meet at the table and try to come up with a final, final bill.
MCEVERS: What kind of support does a bare-bones plan like this have among Republicans?
DAVIS: Senate Republicans met and had lunch and talked about it today. They do not like it. But the argument that Republican leaders are making is, look, again, this isn't the final bill. It's just a process vote. This is about keeping health care alive in the Senate and in Congress. I talked to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who is one of these Republicans who does not like the skinny repeal as a matter of policy and wants assurances that it's not going to end up as the final bill. This is what he told reporters.
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LINDSEY GRAHAM: About half the conference would not tolerate the skinny bill being our final answer. If they send it back over and say, this is the best we can do, no way because if you passed it as a standalone proposition, it would destroy the insurance markets. And we would own the failure of Obamacare.
MCEVERS: I mean, isn't there some risk involved here, Sue, in, like, passing something and then hoping that the House doesn't pass that same thing?
DAVIS: Yes. Fingers crossed, right? I mean, that's not a strategy that a lot of Republicans want to get behind. Particularly, as Graham said, if this were to become law, that is a scenario in which you really do start to see this death spiral that you hear so much about - that the market and premiums will go way up. So what they're asking leadership for is saying, look, if we vote for this, we need some kind of commitment not just from Mitch McConnell now, but from House Speaker Paul Ryan that this will not be the end bill, that the House won't just take it up and put it on the floor and pass it. So there's really also - this is kind of testing the trust between rank-and-file senators and party leaders.
MCEVERS: Do Democrats have any role in this process right now? What's their plan?
DAVIS: You know, of course, they are going to be a no vote no matter what Republicans put on the floor. They very much are here to protect what they see as the legacy of President Obama. And they very much believe that the Affordable Care Act was the right thing to do. They will have a say in this. Once we get moved further along in this process, Democrats, as any other senator, can offer amendments to the floor.
What Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has announced is that Democrats are holding back on their amendments. They're not putting forward any amendments yet. They're saying, look, we want to see what bill you actually want us to debate. They are hoping that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will outline this new proposal. And then Democrats say that they have hundreds of amendments at the ready. Largely, they are focused on forcing some tough political votes, particularly on the parts of the law that are popular, like protecting people with pre-existing conditions and the Medicaid program.
MCEVERS: NPR congressional correspondent Sue Davis. I'm sure we will be talking about this again.
DAVIS: No doubt.
MCEVERS: Thank you very much.
DAVIS: Have a great night. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.