Exclusive: McConnell frets about
healthcare, hopeful on tax overhaul
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[May 25, 2017]
By Susan Cornwell and Yasmeen Abutaleb
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Majority
Leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday he does not yet know how
Republicans will amass the votes needed to pass legislation now being
crafted to dismantle Obamacare, but expressed some optimism on another
top priority, overhauling the tax code.
In an exclusive interview with Reuters, McConnell said healthcare and
taxes still top the Republican legislative agenda, and he added that he
will not reach out to the minority Democrats on either one because
differences between the two parties are too stark.
McConnell also said he has not asked the White House for input as the
Senate devises its own healthcare legislation after the Republican-led
House of Representatives passed its version on May 4, but may do so in
Excluding Democratic involvement will leave McConnell, a conservative
75-year-old Kentuckian with a reputation as a dealmaker, a narrow path
to win passage of these ambitious goals, which are also at the head of
Republican President Donald Trump's policy agenda. A repeal of Obamacare
was one of Trump's leading campaign promises last year.
Asked about behind-the-scenes work among Senate Republicans on hammering
out the provisions of a healthcare bill, McConnell said, "I don't know
how we get to 50 (votes) at the moment. But that's the goal. And exactly
what the composition of that (bill) is I'm not going to speculate about
because it serves no purpose," McConnell said.
Republicans hold a 52-48 Senate majority. In the event of a 50-50 tie,
Republican Vice President Mike Pence would be called upon to cast a
McConnell opened the interview by saying, "There's not a whole lot of
news to be made on healthcare." He declined to discuss what provisions
he might want to see in the bill or provide a timetable for producing
even a draft to show to rank-and-file Republican senators and gauge
On the other hand, he said, prospects for passage of major tax
legislation were "pretty good." While this too will be difficult,
McConnell said, it is "not in my view quite as challenging as
Trump and his fellow Republicans in Congress want to cut tax rates
across the board, but a House proposal to use the tax code to boost
exports and discourage imports has split the business community and some
The House narrowly passed its legislation to overhaul the healthcare
system and dismantle major parts of the Obamacare law, formally called
the Affordable Care Act, that was Democratic former President Barack
Obama's signature legislative achievement, overcoming unified opposition
On Wednesday, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the
House-passed bill would result in 23 million people losing health
insurance coverage by 2026, a sobering figure for Senate Republicans as
they mull action. The CBO also said federal budget deficits would fall
by $119 billion over 10 years under that bill.
Asked if he was getting any guidance from the White House on healthcare
legislation, McConnell said, "Honestly I haven't asked for any. I told
the president there would be a point at which we might well want him and
the vice president to be helpful."
McConnell said Trump and Pence could play an important role when it
comes to "whipping" up support for whatever bill is produced.
If the Senate passes a healthcare bill, lawmakers would have to work out
the differences in the House and Senate versions and pass a compromise
bill before it could go to Trump for his signature.
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to Reuters
during an interview in Washington, U.S., May 24, 2017.
With Republicans holding a slim Senate majority, McConnell likely
needs the cooperation and support of hard-line conservative
Republicans such as Senator Ted Cruz who in the past have been
difficult to corral.
Cruz is a member of a working group within the Senate in charge of
crafting the Senate Obamacare repeal legislation.
"I'm grateful that he wants to help us get an outcome here,"
Republicans face a tricky balancing act. Because they cannot expect
any Democratic support and have a razor-thin majority, they must
devise legislation that appeals not only to the most conservative
senators but also does not drive off many Republican moderates.
Since it became law in 2010, Republicans have railed against
Obamacare, arguing that it is too expensive and involves the
government too deeply in Americans' healthcare decisions.
They have said they want to replace it with a program that repeals
most Obamacare taxes, reduces federal spending in the Medicaid
insurance program for the poor and leaves more decisions up to the
McConnell in the past has promised to undo Obamacare "root and
branch." Now that Republicans are in a position to do so with
control of both Congress and the White House, they have struggled to
come up with a consensus plan.
The Republican leader compared the effort to solving a Rubik's Cube.
Many Senate Republicans have misgivings about the House-passed
legislation, which Democrats have said would deprive millions of
people of insurance, benefit the wealthy and roll back Obamacare
protections such as guaranteed coverage for people with pre-existing
McConnell made clear that senators are writing their own bill,
saying, "We're working on a separate approach."
In taking a Republican-only approach to healthcare and taxes,
McConnell said of Democrats, "They're not interested in doing what
we're interested in doing."
McConnell expressed optimism two parties can band together to pass
legislation funding the federal government in the fiscal year
starting on Oct. 1.
He also noted good prospects for bipartisanship on a bill to expand
sanctions against Iran, due for debate in the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee this week, and renewal of a Food and Drug
Administration user-fee program that expires later this year.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Yasmeen Abutaleb; Writing by
Richard Cowan; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Will Dunham and Lisa
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