Health care negotiations: VP Pence cites 'challenges' in passing Cruz-Lee amendment

By CongressFOXBusiness

On the eve of the Senate’s historic vote on whether to move to debate health care reform, Sen. Mike Lee met with Vice President Mike Pence to inform him that his Consumer Freedom Amendment will likely not be part of the final version of the Senate’s health care bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare, FOX Business has learned.

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On Monday, Pence asked to meet with Lee, the conservative senator from Utah, to discuss the “challenges” of getting the amendment he worked on with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) across the finish line and into law, according to aides familiar with the matter.

According to Lee’s spokesman Conn Caroll, the meeting turned into a “hard pitch” on health care, with the vice president first informing the senator that lawmakers will be voting on the motion to proceed on House Speaker Paul Ryan’s, (R-Wis.), health care law, the American Health Care Act, and are hoping to later add an amendment that’s reflective of the 2015 bill that was meant to fully repeal ObamaCare with no immediate replacement.

The 2015 bill was originally vetoed by President Obama after it passed the Senate by a slim majority.

Pence then explained to Lee that while they are planning to bring his amendment up for a vote, the chance of it passing is unlikely due to the budget reconciliation rules. The rules explain that while a bill or an amendment can pass with just 50 votes, the legislation has to have been scored by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in order for the procedure to be implemented. If not, the Senate has to rely on a 60 vote majority to pass and hope that some Democrats will jump on board.

A spokesman for Pence would not comment on the matter, but did not deny the substance of the conversation between the vice president and Lee.

In the case of the Cruz-Lee amendment, while it has been submitted to the CBO, there’s still no score and aides from the Senate Budget Committee say they don’t expect to see one before the end of the week.

The CBO’s score on the bill that would fully repeal Obamacare without an immediate replacement showed that, if passed, it would leave 32 million more people uninsured and would double premiums over the next decade.

According to Cruz’s press release describing the amendment, the change to the health care legislation would give insurers who sell “a sufficient number of ObamaCare-compliant plans with a rating area of a state’s exchange, then that insurer may sell any other plan with that rating area that consumers desire off exchange.”

Cruz announced Monday through his Facebook page that he would support the motion to proceed and is hoping to eventually see the Senate take up the full repeal of ObamaCare without a replacement plan or the Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act, with his Consumer Freedom Amendment as part of the legislation package.

A spokesman for Cruz did not return calls for comment.

After the meeting, Lee came back to his office and voiced his frustrations with the entire health care lawmaking process, calling it “crazy” and “ridiculous,” according to people familiar with the matter.

Still, Lee has not yet decided whether he will vote “yes” on the motion to proceed. According to Caroll, he will agree to vote “yes” if the final product either includes his amendment or a “skinny Obamacare repeal bill” that reflects cuts to the “employer mandate, individual mandate and Obamacare taxes.”

The message from Pence to Lee also counters the narrative the White House has been pushing to Lee’s office.

As FOX Business first reported, Lee has been assured twice in recent days by White House officials that his amendment will be in the final Senate health care bill in an effort to get him to vote “yes.”

Last week, Lee met with former Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie and former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who were determined to get Lee to change his mind a day after Lee announced through Twitter he would not vote “yes.”

That same day, Lee also received a phone call from President Trump who also tried to change Lee’s mind.

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