In Senate, pessimism over ObamaCare repeal

Republican senators say they don’t see a way to get healthcare reform over the finish line, even if the House passes a bill this week.

A senior GOP senator said the chances of getting 51 votes for legislation based on the House healthcare bill are less than 1 in 5.

The senator also put the chances that the House bill will meet Senate budgetary rules preventing a filibuster at less than 1 in 5, meaning portions of the legislation would have to be removed.

Lawmakers are keeping quiet about their concerns because they want to help Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanSpending deal talks down to toughest issues, lawmakers say Schiff: I thought more Republicans would speak out against Trump Dem leaders pull back from hard-line immigration demand MORE (R-Wis.), whose job they fear may be in jeopardy if the House fails again to approve an ObamaCare repeal bill.

“Paul Ryan is a talented and thoughtful legislator and leader. It’s important for him to succeed,” said one GOP senator.

But the GOP senators are also preparing: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate tees up Yemen vote for Tuesday Senate confirms Trump's border chief House leaves out ObamaCare fix from must-pass funding bill MORE (R-Ky.) has convened a group of conservatives and moderates to figure out what healthcare legislation could get 51 votes on the Senate floor.

McConnell and the top two members of his leadership team, Senate GOP Whip John CornynJohn CornynTrump adds to legal team after attacks on Mueller Senate tees up Yemen vote for Tuesday Senate GOP: Legislation to protect Mueller not needed MORE (Texas) and GOP Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate Commerce presses Facebook, Cambridge Analytic for answers on data Overnight Tech: Facebook faces crisis over Cambridge Analytica data | Lawmakers demand answers | What to watch for next | Day one of AT&T's merger trial | Self-driving Uber car kills pedestrian White House, Democrats reject competing DACA offers MORE (S.D.), met with the group Tuesday.

People who attended the meeting said the group is trying to figure out if a consensus can be reached among Senate Republicans on an ObamaCare replacement bill.

If the group can’t reach an agreement, there is already discussion on whether a bill should be brought to the floor.

McConnell says he is committed to getting a result.

“We don’t want to give up on this,” he said, before warning that “it’ll be a real big challenge on the Senate side.”

In March, before the House bill collapsed the first time, the Senate plan was to bring the legislation directly to the Senate floor, bypassing committee action. It’s not clear whether those plans are now in flux.

The working group’s formation is also meant to keep individual senators from going off on their own.

McConnell doesn’t want conservative mavericks such as Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Tech: Facebook faces crisis over Cambridge Analytica data | Lawmakers demand answers | What to watch for next | Day one of AT&T's merger trial | Self-driving Uber car kills pedestrian The case for a new branch of the military: United States Space Force The problem with hindsight MORE (R-Texas) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate tees up Yemen vote for Tuesday Congress moving to end US involvement in Yemen This week: Congress races to prevent third shutdown MORE (R-Utah) or mainstream Republicans such as Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanMisinformation campaign is at the center of opposition to common sense sex trafficking legislation This week: Congress races to prevent third shutdown With bills on the table, Congress must heed the call to fix our national parks MORE (Ohio) and Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerTrump presses GOP to change Senate rules Republicans insist tax law will help in midterms The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (Colo.) staking out positions at odds with colleagues, according to a person familiar with the meeting. 

All four of those senators attended Tuesday’s meeting, along with Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonRussian spy poisoning brings world powers closer to day of reckoning GOP senators see Tillerson ouster as the new normal Cotton: Russia will 'lie and deny' about British spy poisoning MORE (R-Ark.), a conservative who criticized the House healthcare reform push earlier this year; Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who has been working on his own proposals; Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchSenate GOP: Legislation to protect Mueller not needed Week ahead: Lawmakers scramble to avoid another shutdown Lighthizer set to testify before Senate Finance on trade next week MORE (R-Utah); and Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderHouse leaves out ObamaCare fix from must-pass funding bill Overnight Health Care: Trump vows tougher borders to fight opioids | Senate considers vote to add ObamaCare fix to spending bill | Anti-abortion clinics take First Amendment case to high court Senate considers vote to add ObamaCare fix to spending bill MORE (R-Tenn.).

Republican senators say the House bill will have to undergo substantial revision if it ever passes the lower chamber, and they have serious doubts about whether the House will accept those changes.

GOP senators think it’s unlikely the compromise struck between members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and moderate Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), which allows states to seek a waiver for certain ObamaCare insurance regulations, will pass muster with the Senate parliamentarian.

Republicans are using special rules known as budget reconciliation to avoid a Democratic filibuster on an ObamaCare replacement. This would allow them to pass the legislation with 51 votes.

The problem is that Senate Democrats are expected to argue that various parts of the House bill will not meet Senate rules governing what can be included in reconciliation.

Democrats will argue that those provisions, such as a rule allowing states to seek a waiver for a regulation that requires insurers to offer certain minimum benefits, do not have a straightforward connection to spending, taxes or the deficit — something required under reconciliation.

Cornyn said the House bill — if it passes — will have to be revised.

“I suspect the bill the House passes will be modified if for no other reason that the reconciliation rules would require it,” he said. “My goal would be if they pass a bill, which I hope they will, it will come over here and we’ll do our best work to cobble together 51 votes.”

Another GOP lawmakers said the House bill will have to be changed “a lot.”

Some senators argue the push in the House could set up the Senate for blame.

“All they care about is getting it out of the House so they can say that the Senate couldn’t pass healthcare reform,” said a second GOP senator who requested anonymity.

Still, this lawmaker said GOP senators are ready to help Ryan out even if it means they shoulder the blame for killing a bill that faces a steep climb to enactment.

Ryan took a public pummeling after he failed to muster enough votes to pass healthcare reform in March. He was hurt by statements — some public and some anonymous — by senators casting doubt on whether the bill could pass the Senate, undermining the resolve of House lawmakers to take a tough vote.

Senators have been more careful not to make Ryan’s job tougher this time around.

“People recognize the need to move forward and have conversations about how to make a bill better, but to do so less from a soapbox but more from a position of working together and collaboration,” said Gardner, who signed a letter to McConnell in March criticizing the House bill’s Medicaid provisions.