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Week In Politics: Health Care And The Supreme Court


Another no vote emerged from the Senate yesterday.


DEAN HELLER: This bill - this bill that's currently in front of the United States Senate - not the answer. It's simply not the answer.

BLOCK: That's Dean Heller of Nevada, a moderate Republican. He's the latest senator to oppose his party's health care overhaul bill if it stays as it's written now. Joining us to talk about the bill's prospects and more, including a possible Supreme Court retirement, is NPR's senior political editor Ron Elving. Welcome.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Melissa.

BLOCK: We saw the Senate Republican leaders this week reveal the health care bill that they've been preparing behind closed doors in recent weeks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised a vote on it on Thursday. What has to happen before that?

ELVING: First thing has to happen - we need to hear from the Congressional Budget Office, the CBO score. And they'll tell us what the bill's going to cost, what effect it will have on the deficit, and it will estimate how many people will lose their health insurance over the next 10 years. That could be a pretty scary number. And it might just sway some votes on the Senate floor.

BLOCK: And a lot of people have been saying that the bill is already in trouble for conservative Republican senators have said they are no votes at this point.

ELVING: And an equal number of Republicans have said they're not necessarily on board, and they tend to be more in the moderate category. Several - well, let's put it this way. They need 50 votes to force a tie that can be broken by Vice President Mike Pence. So it looks right now as though the vote is tight. But I would not bet against Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader. If he says they're voting on Thursday, he has a plan to get to 50 by Thursday.

BLOCK: And if they don't vote by Thursday, what happens then?

ELVING: It means a postponement until after the Fourth of July recess or possibly after the August recess or maybe indefinitely. But McConnell has a political idea of how he could handle that - how he could continue to run against Obamacare in future elections if it is just not possible for them to get through a bill that would repeal and replace.

On the other hand, I'm not saying he's throwing in the towel here. He has a lot more to do this summer on the budget, on taxes, on the debt ceiling. He'd really rather get this done now. There's a blockage on the track because of this bill. And he would like to get it out of the way so he can move on to all these other things.

BLOCK: And the math here, Ron, is if they lose three Republican votes, then the bill would not pass.

ELVING: That is correct. But, look, this bill had near-death experiences in the House just a few months ago. In the end, they tweaked it just enough to please the very most conservative members. And then they strong armed the wavering holdouts. So watch Mitch McConnell. If he sticks to that Thursday voting deadline, he's got a plan.

BLOCK: Ron, polls have shown that the version of this bill that came out of the House is shockingly unpopular. Americans disapproving of it by big, big margins. Would there be a lot of political pain for senators if they do pass this?

ELVING: In the long run, it would seem likely. Whichever party has passed the last health care bill winds up getting blamed for everybody's health care unhappiness, whatever it may happen to be. But a lot of the pain in this bill is postponed on into the 2020s.

And meanwhile, the Republicans are much more worried about the blowback they would get, especially within their own ranks, if they failed to repeal Obamacare. It's been their main signature issue for seven years and through four election cycles. And they believe it's largely the reason they have their majorities in Congress.

BLOCK: And, Ron, we mentioned that the Supreme Court wraps up its session this week. What big cases are still to be decided?

ELVING: Several cases remaining, including one on government aid to parochial schools. The court is also expected to say whether or not it will review the president's travel ban on certain predominantly Muslim countries. And one more thing - lots of chatter in the ether about a possible retirement possibly from Anthony Kennedy, soon to be 81 years old. And he is the longest serving justice on the current bench. This is the man who's been the swing vote again and again on the Supreme Court and was really more responsible than anyone else for the recognition of same sex marriage in America.

BLOCK: And, obviously, if he were to retire - big if - that would be huge.

ELVING: It would.

BLOCK: NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Ron, thanks.

ELVING: Thank you, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.