POLITICS

ObamaCare repeal bill on fast track in Senate; Ryan says tax reform next

Republican congressional leaders put their two major legislative priorities on a fast track Tuesday -- aiming for a Senate vote to overhaul ObamaCare as early as next week and a vote on tax reform by year's end.

“We are going to cut taxes,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a major tax reform speech in Washington. “We are going to get this done in 2017.”

Hours later, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Capitol Hill he expects to have a draft by Thursday of Senate Republicans’ health care bill and a decisive floor vote by next week.

The vote could be close. The House last month passed its legislation to overhaul ObamaCare. A group of about 13 Republican senators has since been working behind closed doors on a Senate version, eager to give President Trump and the entire party a major legislative win this year.

Democrats have criticized McConnell for the “secretive” process and their exclusion from the drafting process. 

“Our friends on the other side of the aisle have made it perfectly clear no Democrats will be voting to replace” ObamaCare, the Kentucky lawmaker countered on the Senate floor.

McConnell spoke after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., accused Senate Republicans of crafting the bill “in the dark of night” and called for an open hearing before a final vote.

McConnell denied the request for a hearing and defended his use of a parliamentary tactic known as “budget reconciliation” that allows him to pass the bill with no fewer than 50 of the chamber’s 52 GOP senators.

“It’s an open amendment process,” said McConnell, who also declined to say whether senators will have more than the minimum 10 hours to review the bill before voting.

Schumer called the situation a “travesty,” amid plans by him and fellow Senate Democrats to give extended floor speeches and limit hearings to two hours to try to stop the bill from passing.

The remaining undecided issues reportedly include how to keep tax subsidies intended to pay for ObamaCare from being used to buy insurance that covers abortions.

The 2010 health care law has extended insurance coverage to tens of millions of Americans, but many customers are facing rising costs and dwindling policy options.

Trump has been relatively quiet about his demands for the Senate bill, and top administration officials have kept a distance, at least publicly, from the drafting process.

However, Trump recently said the House version was “mean” -- implying the Senate version could provide more subsidies to help defray the cost of insurance. 

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer seemed to confirm that position Tuesday when he told reporters the president wants the bill to have “heart.”

Ryan, in his speech before the National Association of Manufacturers, vowed tax reform for individuals and businesses.

He said the GOP House plan for individuals calls for eliminating the death tax and Alternative Minimum Tax and ending special-interest carve outs and excessive deductions, while keeping taxes on home ownership, charitable giving and retirement savings.

Ryan, as he has suggested before, said the plan would also consolidate the existing seven brackets into three, double the standard deduction and “simplify things to the point that you can do your taxes on a form the size of a postcard.”

He said eliminating so-called loopholes would lower taxes. However, he did not elaborate on whether the cuts would be across the board for all Americans.

Spicer said Tuesday after Ryan’s speech that the administration and congressional Republicans have “an agreement … on what tax reform should include.”

Spicer said changes should simplify the tax code and help U.S. companies more easily sell goods overseas.

“We need to get this done sooner than later,” he said. “We are working with House leaders and hosting listening sessions to iron out details on what needs to happen.”