A key part of Senate Republicans’ new health care bill could get derailed over abortion restrictions, according to several GOP sources, a potential setback in their effort to repeal Obamacare.
Republicans want to enact new tax subsidies to help people buy insurance on the exchanges — but they want to include prohibitions on abortion coverage. The House had seemed to settle the matter, when both more centrist and conservative GOP senators accepted language that follows the Hyde amendment, which prohibits taxpayer funding for abortion.
But Republicans are increasingly worried that the anti-abortion language would be struck under Senate rules, which allow only budgetary changes. In the past, abortion-related provisions were often ruled out under reconciliation, the fast-track procedure the GOP is using to repeal the health law.
"There’s still not a clear ruling from the parliamentarian about the House Hyde language … I don’t think we go to contingencies or Plan Bs until we know that. But I do think there’s been some gaming out of how you address it if the House language isn’t acceptable," said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a GOP leader working on the tax credits. "No taxpayer funding is consistent with the majority of our caucus."
Republicans are now trying to figure out how to craft the language to ensure it complies with procedural rules. If they can’t find language that complies, they may be forced to keep Obamacare’s subsidy structure. Under the Affordable Care Act, consumers can use subsidies on plans that cover abortion, which may be difficult for conservatives to swallow.
The issue is a top priority for anti-abortion groups, and Susan B Anthony List and the Family Research Council on Thursday warned the Hill they would oppose the bill if it did not include abortion restrictions — or if it funds Planned Parenthood.
"Both of these pro-life policies are essential to the bill, and must be retained all the way to final passage," the organizations wrote. "We write to urge you to protect the policies that embrace the longstanding pro-life principle that abortion is not health care and should be neither subsidized nor promoted with public financing.
Republican senators say it’s an open question until the parliamentarian rules.
"It’s a problem," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). "We don’t quite know how that’s going to work or how the parliamentarian will rule."
Republicans insist that their subsidies will not cover abortion.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) has spoken to several of the anti-abortion groups on the issue and urged them to "work together" to find a solution that the right can accept. And she said the GOP also needs to find unity on the language before moving forward.
"We have to work with the parliamentarians on this," she said. "We have to work together."