Washington (CNN)As Republican leaders barrel toward a vote to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act on the House floor Thursday, the Republican leadership strategy to court undecided members remains the same: Remind them that their bill is just one of three steps to overhaul the country's health care system.
The 'three-bucket' strategy on health care that not everyone can believe in
There's one problem. Some of the most skeptical members aren't buying the so-called three-bucket strategy.
"I have called bucket three the sucker's bucket," Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who is trying to push the bill in a more conservative direction, said on CBS's "Face the Nation."
"History shows us that if you're hoping for legislative answers in the future that more often than not they don't happen," House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows told CNN Monday. "When it comes to a repeal of a landmark piece of legislation that was ushered in by a president of the opposing party, the chances of getting eight votes for any repeal aspect would be extremely remote."
Bucket one is passing the the American Health Care Act, which would repeal the individual mandate, taxes and other key components of Obamacare. Bucket two: directing Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to use his discretion at the Department of Health and Human Services to make administrative change. Bucket three: pass other standalone bills to make additional market reforms.
Republicans got started on passing additional bills this week in the House, but such standalone legislation, which would tackle popular provisions like allowing insurers to sell plans across state lines, face a more rigorous test than the American Health Care Act. Unlike the current bill, which is being brought to the floor under a special process known as reconciliation that only requires 51 votes in the Senate, the standalone bills will require 60 votes and therefore bipartisan buy-in once they reach the Senate.
Many Republicans are dubious that Democrats would ever help them pass the standalone bills especially after they vote Thursday to gut former President Barack Obama's signature legislative achievement.
"There is no three-phase process. There is no three-step plan. That is just political talk. It's just politicians engaging in spin," Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt last week.
Conservatives are so skeptical of the third bucket that some, like Cruz, are advocating for leaders to forget trying to pass standalone legislation at all and jam more market reforms through the Senate using the reconciliation process.
"It's their so-called three-bucket solution, which is all the good stuff is in bucket three? Bucket three takes eight Democrats. Right now, Senate Democrats are opposing everything. You can't get eight Senate Democrats to agree on saying 'good morning,'" Cruz said Sunday. "I have called bucket three the 'Sucker's Bucket.' And what I have been urging the President and the administration and leader in both houses, take everything in bucket three, put it in bucket one. We have got to actually fix this problem."
Some GOP lawmakers are reticent to publicly criticize the "three-bucket" strategy that Trump and Republican leaders are touting, as negotiations continue on the health care bill.
One Republican lawmaker who is still undecided on whether to vote for the legislation told CNN that they do not believe Republicans will be able to pass any additional health care legislation, since those will require 60 votes in the Senate.
"If I'm voting for the bill, I'm doing it assuming that that's the last health care bill I vote for that has a chance of passing," the lawmaker said of the upcoming vote on the House health care bill on Thursday.
One senior GOP aide pushed back against the criticism arguing that President Donald Trump himself has given assurances that he will campaign out in states that he won to put pressure on Democratic senators if he has to.
This week, the House will move on two standalone bills: The Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act of 2017, which will get a vote Tuesday, and the Small Business Health Fairness Act of 2017, which would allow businesses to create pooled insurance networks and will be voted on on Wednesday. The bills are expected to pass the House, but again, will face a 60-vote obstacle in the Senate where Democrats aren't expected to be on board.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer responded last week to questions about whether Democrats would help Republicans pass some of the standalone bills after they passed their core repeal legislation
"We think this bill is so bad, there is no way to make it better, particularly compared to the good job that ACA is doing," Schumer said.