- Getty Images/Pool
Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas on Tuesday blasted the insistence by GOP leadership and the Trump administration that their proposed healthcare overhaul would come in three phases.
In defending the American Health Care Act, GOP leaders such as President Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price have insisted that the bill is just step one of three.
But during a Tuesday appearance on conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s show, Cotton dismissed their line of thinking, calling it “political talk” and saying flatly that there was “no three-phase process.”
“Hugh, there is no three-phase process. There is no three-step plan. That is just political talk. It’s just politicians engaging in spin. This is why. Step one is a bill that can pass with 51 votes in the Senate. That’s what we’re working on right now. Step two, as yet unwritten regulations by Tom Price, which is going to be subject to court challenge, and therefore, perhaps the whims of the most liberal judge in America. But step three, some mythical legislation in the future that is going to garner Democratic support and help us get over 60 votes in the Senate. If we had those Democratic votes, we wouldn’t need three steps. We would just be doing that right now on this legislation altogether. That’s why it’s so important that we get this legislation right, because there is no step three. And step two is not completely under our control.”
Put another way, the AHCA is designed to need only a simple majority to pass the Senate, as it is being moved through a process known as budget reconciliation. Any other bill introduced affecting statutory measures would need 60 votes in the Senate, or Democrats could filibuster it. Cotton was suggesting he thought it unlikely that any other bill could make it through the chamber.
Add on, as Cotton said, that any regulation instituted by Price at HHS could be challenged, and all of a sudden the AHCA could be Republicans’ only chance at controlling an overhaul of the healthcare system.
Cotton has previously criticized the AHCA because of its proposed adjustments to the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, for which Arkansas accepted funding, saying the House GOP should “pause” and “start over” on the healthcare plan.
The senator on Tuesday also addressed the score given to the bill by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Cotton said that while “the CBO director is not Moses” and “he’s not walking down from the mountaintop with stone tablets,” there was good reason to take the report seriously.
“All that said, I think the Congressional Budget Office is directionally correct,” Cotton said. “They’re right that coverage levels will go down in the coming years under the House bill. They’re also right, I’m afraid, that insurance premiums will continue to go up in the near term, for three to four years, before they start perhaps falling in the long term.”
Cotton said that given those realities, the House GOP needed to seriously edit the bill before it arrived in the Senate.
“However, I suspect that the political consequences of those near-term changes means that the long term will never actually arrive,” Cotton said.
He added: “That’s why I believe it’s so important that the House take a pause and try to fix some of these fixable problems in their committees, which is the easiest place in Congress to fix them, whereas the Senate floor is the hardest place to fix them.”