Senate Republicans are making yet another push to try to revive their plans to repeal and replace Obamacare, with a group of GOP senators who opposed earlier health bills meeting on Wednesday evening to try to hash out their differences.
GOP leaders are still pushing for a way to advance a health bill next week even after two different repeal plans fell apart. And key Republican senators left a health care meeting at the White House Wednesday sounding more optimistic that they could revive their bill to dismantle and replace the Affordable Care Act.
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“We’re discussing that,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said when asked whether some version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act was coming back. “I’m more optimistic that that would be the case. But if there’s no agreement, then we’ll still vote on the motion to proceed but it’ll be to the 2015 just-repeal bill.”
The meeting will is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Supporters of the repeal bill hope that key holdouts and skeptics attend, including: Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Rob Portman of Ohio, Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
“People are sincere about getting a result but people have differences,” Johnson said. Speaking about President Donald Trump’s renewed attempts to revive the health care effort, the senator added: “This was a well-timed push.”
“We have at least momentum. Before there was none,” Cassidy added.
The Senate GOP’s latest attempt to craft a replacement for Obamacare crashed and burned earlier this week, as four Republican senators announced that they would oppose the current version of the bill. But Cornyn told reporters following the White House meeting that about 40 members of the GOP conference are prepared to vote on any health care deal replacing Obamacare, and the “differences are narrowing.”
Trump also sounded a note of optimism during the meeting, while urging senators to not leave town for the August recess without sending him a repeal-and-replacement for Obamacare.
Centrist GOP senators like Portman and Capito are not happy about future reductions to Medicaid spending, worried it would kick hundreds of thousands of their constituents off healthcare. GOP leaders threw more than $100 billion to lower premiums and fight drug addiction into the bill, but thus far it hasn’t been enough.
Meanwhile, Lee and Paul say the bill isn’t conservative enough, making it difficult for McConnell to thread the needle.
“There’s been additional effort to try to demonstrate to the Medicaid expansion states that they have the money and the tools in order to provide coverage for their Medicaid expansion population,” Cornyn said, explaining the ongoing talks. And “Sen. [Ted] Cruz has done a good job in demonstrating, based on [Health and Human Services] analysis, that under his plan, you’ll be able to drive down premiums substantially.”
He added that a key procedural vote to take up legislation will be held one regardless, and leaders were hoping that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is recovering from surgery, would return in time for the vote. Cornyn said more information about McCain’s condition will be released Friday.
Three Senate Republicans — Capito, Murkowski and Collins — said they would oppose proceeding to a repeal-only measure on Tuesday, tanking the prospects that a floor debate over getting a straight repeal of Obamacare can even begin.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), speaking to reporters after the White House meeting, said he expected to be able to at least get on the bill for debate.
“I think the key to flipping the three ‘no’s’ is some reassurance about what would be in the final product,” Cornyn said. “I think there’s more confidence that we are closer to an agreed final product that 50 of us can live with.”
However, some key holdouts said their position is unchanged.
Portman, who is undecided on a procedural vote but has signaled opposition to a repeal-only bill, said the legislation needs “to do more to show low-income people that they have options” and said the vote next week will fail unless those improvements were made.
Capito said she’ll still vote no on proceeding to a bill unless there’s a replacement plan she supports.
“The president emphasized repeal and replace. We’re still working on it. It’s moved a lot farther in terms of where it was in terms of congealing,” Capito said.
Murkowski said she wasn’t even sure what they would be voting on.
“It’s not clear whether there will be a motion to proceed to this repeal and replace. I think that’s still under consideration. There will be a vote on something that much is certain,” she said, adding that it was hard to answer “unless you know what the question is.”
Collins said she was not invited to the meeting and wouldn’t be attending.
“I guess it’s open invitation but I didn’t know that until it was brought up at the White House. I’m unfortunately committed to something else,” she said.
Earlier at the lunch, Trump said he was surprised to see his “friends” — “They might not be very much longer,” he quipped — oppose Senate GOP leaders’ plan.
Trump singled out Dean Heller, who is widely considered the GOP’s most vulnerable incumbent in 2018, suggesting he was once worried but is now confident the Nevada senator will come around to supporting a replacement bill.
“Look,” Trump told the room of Republicans, “he wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he? OK? And I think the people of your state, which I know very well, I think they’re gonna appreciate what you hopefully will do.”
A chuckling Heller said as he returned to the Capitol that those comments were “President Trump being President Trump
Nolan McCaskill contributed to this report.