Key Senate Republicans to meet and try to revive health bill – Politico
The GOP’s bid to repeal and replace Obamacare has been declared dead twice this week. But Republicans are giving it one last shot.
A group of GOP senators who opposed earlier health bills are meeting on Wednesday evening to try to hash out their differences and save the bill. The meeting follows a gathering with President Donald Trump, who ordered senators to stay in Washington until they pass a bill to repeal and replace the 2010 health law.
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So now 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 healthcare meeting at the White House Wednesday sounding more optimistic that they could revive their bill to replace the Affordable Care Act.
“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 is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, and 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. But Collins is skipping it, and it wasn’t clear who would show up.
Sen. John Barrasso said the meeting was planned before the White House lunch.
“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.
Lee said he would be at the meeting and said he’s open to hearing additional changes to the bill.
“We had those [discussions] today and we’ll have more later tonight,” he said.
But Lee and Paul say the bill isn’t conservative enough, making it difficult for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to get the 50 votes he needs.
At the White House, senators and administration officials discussed adding billions more to help states worried about Medicaid cuts under the bill. It was unclear if that’s enough to move the moderate holds outs, with one senator saying there’s an “outside chance” of success next week. Trump, the senator said, was more effective than he’s been on healthcare in weeks.
The Senate GOP’s latest attempt to craft a replacement for Obamacare fell apart 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.
“We’re going to get there. We have a little bit more work to do. But we will get there,” Cruz insisted. “I emphatically agree with the president. We shouldn’t go home ‘til we get this done.”
But 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.
Cornyn said a key procedural vote to take up legislation will be held regardless of whether it will succeed. 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, effectively tanking the prospects that a floor debate over getting a straight repeal of Obamacare can even begin.
But McConnell, speaking to reporters after the White House meeting, said he expected to be able to at least proceed to the bill.
“There’s more confidence that we are closer to an agreed final product that 50 of us can live with,” Cornyn said.
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.
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