This week: GOP faces deadline for ObamaCare repeal
© Greg Nash

Republicans are heading toward a looming end-of-the-week deadline to repeal ObamaCare without a clear path to passing a bill.

GOP lawmakers, eager to score a policy and political win, had hoped that momentum and a hard deadline would finally allow them make good on their years-long campaign promise to nix the Affordable Care Act.

Instead, the ObamaCare repeal legislation is facing a growing number of hurdles despite insistence by key senators and the Trump administration that they could still get 50 votes before Sept. 30. 

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Tech: Judge blocks AT&T request for DOJ communications | Facebook VP apologizes for tweets about Mueller probe | Tech wants Treasury to fight EU tax proposal Overnight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand FCC to officially rescind net neutrality rules on Thursday MORE (R-Maine) hinted on Sunday that she would likely be unable to support the legislation from GOP Sens. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyTo lower prescription drug prices, fix existing drug discount programs Kimmel writer tweets amount NRA has given lawmakers in response to shooting prayers Overnight Regulation: Trump unveils budget | Sharp cuts proposed for EPA, HHS | Trump aims to speed environmental reviews | Officials propose repealing most of methane leak rule MORE (La.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Pence tours Rio Grande between US and Mexico GOP looks for Plan B after failure of immigration measures MORE (S.C.), which replaces ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion and insurance subsidies with block grants to the states. 

"It’s very difficult for me to envision a scenario where I would end up voting for this bill," GOP Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told CNN's "State of the Union."

But Collins added while she has "serious reservations" about the bill—including its impact on Medicaid and individuals with pre-existing conditions—she's waiting until a preliminary Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis to make her final decision.

Graham and Cassidy, aiming to keep their bill alive, made last-minute changes to the bill over the weekend including directing more funding toward states of key hold-out senators, including Maine and Alaska. 

On the opposite side of the GOP caucus from Collins, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Health Care: Trump eases rules on insurance outside ObamaCare | HHS office on religious rights gets 300 complaints in a month | GOP chair eyes opioid bill vote by Memorial Day HHS official put on leave amid probe into social media posts Trump, Pence to address CPAC this week MORE (R-Texas) said separately on Sunday that he wasn't yet ready to back the legislation, but noted he and Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe 14 GOP senators who voted against Trump’s immigration framework Prison sentencing bill advances over Sessions objections Grassley ‘incensed’ by Sessions criticism of proposed sentencing reform legislation MORE (R-Utah) are pitching potential changes to the legislation. 

"Right now they don't have my vote and I don't think they have Mike Lee's either," Cruz told the Texas Tribune.

Lee's office has noted he is working to get changes into the bill, and Cruz added on Sunday that "I want to be a yes."

GOP leadership can't afford to lose either Cruz or Collins if they want to get the Graham-Cassidy legislation, which is also co-sponsored by GOP Sens. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThe siren of Baton Rouge Big Republican missteps needed for Democrats to win in November What to watch for in the Senate immigration votes MORE (Nev.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.), through the Senate. 

Republicans have 52 seats and need 50 GOP senators to allow Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceNorth Korea canceled secret meeting with Pence at Olympics Judicial order in Flynn case prompts new round of scrutiny The CIA may need to call White House to clarify Russia meddling MORE to break a tie. With GOP Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLawmakers worry about rise of fake video technology Democrats put Dreamers and their party in danger by playing hardball Trump set a good defense budget, but here is how to make it better MORE (Ariz.) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulDem wins Kentucky state House seat in district Trump won by 49 points GOP's tax reform bait-and-switch will widen inequality Pentagon budget euphoria could be short-lived MORE (Ky.) already opposed to the bill, leadership needs to win over every other member of the Republican caucus. 

Several key senators, including GOP Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe siren of Baton Rouge Interior plan to use drilling funds for new projects met with skepticism The 14 GOP senators who voted against Trump’s immigration framework MORE (Alaska), remain on the fence. No Democrats are expected to support it. 

But Graham and Cassidy, as well as the White House, remain adamant that they will be able to pass the healthcare legislation. 

"It’s not dead,” Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, told “Fox News Sunday." "Here we are, just days away from a final vote and we’ve trying to win over the support of the last couple senators to get there." 

Trump also lashed out at McCain over the weekend, targeted Murkowski by arguing her state is being hurt by ObamaCare and predicted that Paul could ultimately become a "yes" vote. 

Short noted he anticipated a vote would take place on Wednesday, though it hasn't formally been scheduled. 

Spokesmen for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers feel pressure on guns Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Curbelo Dem rival lashes out over immigration failure MORE said last week that he "intends" to bring up Graham-Cassidy this week, but the Kentucky Republican has been tight lipped in the wake of McCain's announcement. 

GOP senators have been skeptical that the push will succeed.

"I'll be honest, it seems unlikely that we'll be voting on this," Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said during a town hall late last week.

And Sens. Cruz and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have both predicted Republicans will not ultimately be able to get 50 votes.

“It's not clear if we're going to get to 50 votes or not,” Cruz told conservative radio host Michael Berry.

Republicans have until Sept. 30 to pass an ObamaCare repeal bill and avoid a Democratic filibuster using rules laid out as part of the fiscal year 2017 budget. 

Republicans, if they fail to meet the deadline, could try to use the fiscal year 2018 budget that they still need to pass to pave the way for taking another shot at repealing ObamaCare, but that could complicate their effort to pass tax reform. 

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchOvernight Finance: NAFTA defenders dig in | Tech pushes Treasury to fight EU on taxes | AT&T faces setback in merger trial | Dems make new case against Trump tax law | Trump fuels fight over gas tax What sort of senator will Mitt Romney be? Not a backbencher, even day one Lawmaker interest in NAFTA intensifies amid Trump moves MORE (R-Utah) told Bloomberg that there's "a chance" they could pair the two items in the next budget resolution but "it's not easy."


Tax reform

After struggling for most of this year to fulfill their campaign pledges on health care, Republicans will soon be moving to another pillar of their agenda: tax reform.

Republicans plan to roll out a tax reform framework on Wednesday in hopes of building momentum.

House Republicans will gather for a half-day retreat away from the Capitol campus to discuss the tax reform framework and allow rank-and-file members to offer feedback.

GOP leaders and the White House are hoping to finish tax reform by the end of the year, using the same budgetary procedure that would allow them to circumvent a Democratic filibuster in the Senate.

But if the failed effort to repeal ObamaCare is any indication, passing legislation to reform the tax code for the first time since 1986 will be a tall task for the GOP.

Republicans initially hoped to send an ObamaCare repeal bill to Trump’s desk by his first 100 days in office, which most certainly didn’t turn out as planned.

Internal disagreements remain on how to move forward. President Trump said earlier this month that “the rich will not be gaining at all” from tax reform and suggested they may even pay more. That would be at odds with Republicans who want to lower taxes for all Americans.

There’s also debate by how much Republicans want to cut the individual and and corporate tax rates. Trump has called for lowering the corporate tax rate from the current 35 percent to 15 percent, but Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanRepublicans are avoiding gun talks as election looms The Hill's 12:30 Report Flake to try to force vote on DACA stopgap plan MORE (R-Wis.) said that might not be feasible and suggested something closer to 20 percent.

The dearth of major legislative accomplishments since Trump took office is amplifying pressure on Republicans to get something done on tax reform. The conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks warned that a failure to pass tax reform “could be the end of the GOP as we know it.”

End-of-September deadlines

Congress faces multiple deadlines at the end of this week to ensure major programs don’t expire.

Among them is an authorization for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Lawmakers are expected to pass a six-month extension this week as they continue work on a long-term reauthorization.

Republicans on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee are pushing a controversial proposal to separate air traffic control from the federal government as part of a long-term bill.

Amid the recovery efforts for recent hurricanes, lawmakers attached a provision to the FAA extension that would encourage the creation of private flood insurance markets to provide consumers with more coverage options.

Another part of the legislation would offer tax relief for victims of the hurricanes, including a waiver from the penalty for making early withdrawals from retirement accounts.

The bill also extends certain health care programs to assist health centers with graduate medical education programs and providing care to people with severe immunodeficiency diseases.

But one expiring program is not scheduled for action this week: the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides health care for about nine million low- and middle-income children.

Lawmakers appear to have some wiggle room for reauthorizing CHIP, however. The Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission projected in July that most states won’t exhaust their funds until early 2018.

Three states and the District of Columbia are expected to run out of funds by December, but that would still provide Congress with some more time beyond the official expiration at the end of this week.

A House Energy and Commerce Committee aide said no imminent action on a CHIP reauthorization has been scheduled at this time.

“Bipartisan committee leaders continue to have productive conversations regarding an extension of federal funding for CHIP,” the spokesperson said.

The top members of the Senate Finance Committee — Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care: Trump eases rules on insurance outside ObamaCare | HHS office on religious rights gets 300 complaints in a month | GOP chair eyes opioid bill vote by Memorial Day Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare Grassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees MORE (D-Ore.) — announced a five-year deal earlier this month.

The extension includes a gradual reduction in enhanced federal matching funds that were first included in the Affordable Care Act, beginning in 2020.

But the deal, temporarily overshadowed by the revived ObamaCare debate, still needs to be scheduled for floor time and pass the Senate.

Melanie Zanona and Niv Elis contributed.