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.

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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 RyanInterior fast tracks study of drilling's Arctic impact: report Dems unveil slate of measures to ratchet up pressure on Russia National Dems make play in Ohio special election 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 McConnellSunk judicial pick spills over into Supreme Court fight Hillicon Valley: Trump's Russia moves demoralize his team | Congress drops effort to block ZTE deal | Rosenstein warns of foreign influence threat | AT&T's latest 5G plans On The Money: Trump 'ready' for tariffs on all 0B in Chinese goods | Trump digs in on Fed criticism | Lawmakers drop plans to challenge Trump ZTE deal 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 CornynThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia Senate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Senators push to clear backlog in testing rape kits MORE (Texas) and GOP Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenators share their fascination with sharks at hearing Helsinki summit becomes new flashpoint for GOP anger Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash 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 CruzWashington needs to end hidden inflation tax on our capital gains GOP tax writer introduces bill to reduce capital gains taxes Senators push to clear backlog in testing rape kits MORE (R-Texas) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeWisconsin GOP Senate candidate rips his own parents for donations to Dems GOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE MORE (R-Utah) or mainstream Republicans such as Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanUS to provide additional 0M in defensive aid to Ukraine Senate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Bipartisan bill would bring needed funds to deteriorating National Park Service infrastructure MORE (Ohio) and Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerMcConnell calls for Senate hearings on Russia sanctions GOP seeks separation from Trump on Russia Republican bill aims to deter NATO members from using Russian pipeline 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 CottonBipartisan group introduces retirement savings legislation in Senate Overnight Defense: Fallout from tense NATO summit | Senators push to block ZTE deal in defense bill | Blackwater founder makes new pitch for mercenaries to run Afghan war Hillicon Valley: DOJ appeals AT&T-Time Warner ruling | FBI agent testifies in heated hearing | Uproar after FCC changes rules on consumer complaints | Broadcom makes bid for another US company | Facebook under fire over conspiracy sites 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 HatchLighthizer to testify before Senate next week as trade war ramps up Senators introduce bipartisan bill to improve IRS Senate panel advances Trump IRS nominee MORE (R-Utah); and Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderMontana governor raises profile ahead of potential 2020 bid Dems pressure GOP to take legal action supporting pre-existing conditions Trump administration to explore importing prescription drugs 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.