WASHINGTON – At a time when their House colleagues are in the hot seat on health care, Georgia’s two senators are studiously avoiding the spotlight – for now.
Republican Sens. David Perdue and Johnny Isakson have both sounded positive notes about their party's plan for repealing and replacing Obamacare, but neither has said definitively whether they'll back or shun the plan as-is. And neither has taken the same cable blitz route as some of their Senate colleagues in the lead-up to the House's nail-biter of a vote, currently expected on Thursday night.
Their relative public silence is strategic and also circumstantial, in the case of Isakson.
It's all but certain that the Senate will need to overhaul the House plan in order to win enough support for passage in the upper chamber, where leaders are hoping to pass the legislation by the end of next week. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can only afford to lose two Republican votes there, and the legislation as written has already been rejected by a handful of GOP senators. Why walk the plank if many key details can and will change?
“I’m not making that comment yet," Perdue said Tuesday after being asked about where he stood on the House plan. "There’s still a good bit of work to be done to get this thing in its final form."
Both Perdue and Isakson have indicated they're supportive of the GOP plan's underlying principles and inclined to vote for the final product. The Affordable Care Act is falling apart and the federal government should have less of a role in the replacement, both argue.
“Hopefully the combination of the health savings account and the refundable tax credit benefits of this bill will put the buying power in the hands of the patient and the citizen," Isakson said during a telephone town hall earlier this month, describing core pieces of the House plan.
Both Isakson and Perdue have raised concerns behind-the-scenes about whether Georgia, which did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, is being "treated fairly" under the House legislation. Other Georgia Republicans have fretted that other states that did expand the entitlement program would get more money from the feds under the current GOP plan.
“Our state did the right thing,” Perdue said. “I want to make sure they get treated in parity with the states that did and that our governor gets plenty of flexibility within whatever money comes from the federal government.”
Isakson has also backed a Republican proposal in the Senate that would mean test the bill's tax credits.
Isakson has been able to avoid the health care spotlight in part because he hasn't been in Washington this month. He's in Georgia indefinitely as he recovers from a pair of recent back surgeries.
If the Senate does indeed move forward with a vote on the health proposal next week, Isakson may need to make an early return to D.C. since leaders are in desperate need for 'yes' votes.
“He’s working to get cleared to be back as soon as possible,” an Isakson spokeswoman said Wednesday.