The crux of the issue is finding a way to get moderates and conservatives on the same page
The sagging mood among Senate Republicans marks a new low point for McConnell
Republican senators returning to Washington Monday sounded exasperated and downright deflated about their unpopular bill to overhaul the health care system.
Some are even beginning to wonder out loud what was an unthinkable prospect a year ago: the GOP could be forced to ditch its efforts to get rid of Obamacare.
“Better than 1%. Not yet above 2% in my opinion,” a senior Republican source told CNN on the chances the health care bill will pass Senate at this point.
Fresh off the recess, members seemed to be unclear on how Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could bridge the divide within the conference.
“I think we have the information we would need if we’re willing to use it. If we’re willing to be honest about what has caused the collapse of these markets and address it forthrightly, not being concerned about the political implications, but actually fix the problem,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin who has been vocal about his frustration with the process. “I think we have the information to address it. I’m not sure we are going to address it, and that is enormously frustrating for me.”
At Tuesday’s Senate GOP policy lunch, the first real indications of the week on which direction leadership is moving may emerge – and it’ll be an opportunity for leaders to take the temperature of the conference on how they’re feeling after the hiatus.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins insisted that barring a “complete overhaul” of the current bill, she simply couldn’t support the legislation. She too called for bipartisan dialogue.
“I don’t want to see us make the same mistake and pass an overhaul of the law without a single Democratic vote,” the GOP moderate said on Monday. “We get far better legislation when both parties work in good faith to reach a solution.”
Arizona Sen. John McCain was characteristically blunt: The Senate bill is on its last legs, he said, and Republicans should think about joining forces with Democrats.
“My view is it’s probably going to be dead,” McCain said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “If you shut out the adversary or the opposite party, you’re going to end up the same way Obamacare did when they rammed it through with 60 votes. Only guess what? We don’t have 60 votes.”
One aide to a Republican senator closely involved in health care negotiations said Senate Republicans were simply not “any closer” than they were before recess, and that for now, it was hard to see the path to 50 “yes” votes.
“It’s easy to get to 40 or 42 yes’s,” the aide said. “Getting to 50? I don’t know.”
What conservatives want
The crux of the issue is finding a way to get moderates and conservatives on the same page. Conservatives want to repeal more Obamacare regulations. Moderates want to ensure that protections for people with pre-existing conditions remain. They also want to preserve Medicaid expansion for as long as they can.
Conservatives like Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee have been pushing to try and give insurers more flexibility in the plans they offer in the health care marketplace, but moderates have concerns the amendment could gut protections for those with pre-existing conditions. And many members acknowledged that the Cruz amendment may not be the magic fix to get to 50 votes.
“I think it picks up conservative votes and loses other votes,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa.
Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi said he could support the Cruz amendment, but that “It’s not a showstopper or a game changer.”
The sagging mood among Senate Republicans marks a new low point for McConnell, who had hoped to vote on the health care bill before members leave town against for the August recess. But the week-long Independence Day break only seemed to intensify his colleagues’ concerns about the health care bill, with a 10th Republican – Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran – coming out against it.
With 52 Republicans in the Senate, McConnell faces the daunting task of convincing most of his colleagues who are currently opposed to the bill to change their minds.
And in a Monday morning tweet, President Donald Trump laid out a suggested deadline: A bill on his desk before August recess.
“I cannot imagine that Congress would dare to leave Washington without a beautiful new HealthCare bill fully approved and ready to go!” the President wrote.
Working with Democrats?!?
Perhaps in an acknowledgment of the tough road ahead, McConnell himself also raised the prospect of the undesirable outcome: if Republicans fail to pass a repeal and replace legislation, they may need to work with Democrats to make fixes to Obamacare.
“If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement, then some kind of action with regard to the private health insurance market must occur,” McConnell said in Kentucky last week. “No action is not an alternative.”
If McConnell was reluctant to delay a vote until after the July 4 recess, he will be even more unwilling to let health care drag out beyond the end of July, when lawmakers take off the full month of August until after Labor Day. Prolonging the debate further would seriously jeopardize the GOP’s other legislative priorities, and leadership has made clear that some decision will have to be made in the next few weeks.
Republican Sen. John Cornyn told reporters on Monday that leadership hopes to unveil a bill as early as this week and have votes next week. According to one Senate aide, leadership hopes to unveil a revised draft legislation by Thursday and receive an updated score from the Congressional Budget Office early next week.
“I’m for getting our work done now. I don’t think stringing it out longer than next week helps us with the product,” Cornyn said.
Asked whether the bill would be brought up on the Senate floor knowing that it would fail, Cornyn responded: “I never go into a fight expecting to lose so I would expect to win.”
Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, joked with reporters bombarding him with questions about the future of health care.
Asked Senate leaders would bring the bill to the floor if they knew it would fail, Corker joked, “I’m feeling pretty good today. I did yoga this morning.”
CNN’s Manu Raju and Ryan Nobles contributed to this report.