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Health bill fakery: drafters left room to accommodate holdouts

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

There's a bit of fakery going on with the Senate healthcare bill that's due for a vote this week.

You might ask a barista to "leave room" for a splash of cream. Well, it turns out the drafters of the Senate bill have left room to accommodate holdout senators. So they can make high-profile demands (some unrelated to healthcare), then go home and claim victory: "I know it has all these problems, but I used my muscle to make it so much better."

This'll be fun to watch, because there are more holdouts than there is room. At least 10 Republican senators have expressed reservations, and the White House and GOP leaders can only lose two. That's why our handicappers have suddenly gone from "more likely than not" to "coin flip."

Trump hinted he may play hardball, tweeting yesterday: "I cannot imagine that these very fine Republican Senators would allow the American people to suffer a broken ObamaCare any longer!"

The state of play:

  • Kickback Watch: After Axios AM reported yesterday that Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) may get some assurances on the Yucca Mountain nuclear dump in return for his vote, "Pod Save America" co-host Tommy Vietor tweeted: "If @SenDeanHeller tries to negotiate big concessions for Nevada don't forget Ben Nelson and the 'Cornhusker Kickback.'"
  • Lingo: DD Media president David Di Martino, an alumnus of former Sen. Ben Nelson, emails: "The new Cornhusker Kickback is the Desert Dole-out."
  • What else is on the menu? Sources tell us a Medicaid working group — including Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia and Cory Gardner of Colorado — has asked for more than $40 billion over 10 years for opioid programs, up from $2 billion in the current bill.
  • The truth: They won't get that much, but there's definitely room — the amount depends on the Congressional Budget Office score, because the Senate has to match deficit reduction in the House bill.
  • Look for: historic levels of amendments, with a vote-a-rama ("a marathon of rapid-fire votes") that could extend into Saturdaymorning.
  • A top Hill source, on the giveaway to come: "I don't think there's much that can be accommodated in the base text. Vote-a-rama is another story. You can't stop senators from offering. And if it's something that can meet [the parliamentarian's] tests and get the rest of their conference, I'm sure we'll be taking a look."