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 RyanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees House Republican: 'I worry about both sides' of the aisle on DACA Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids 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 McConnellGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat McConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Brent Budowsky: A plea to Alabama voters 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 CornynMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Air Force makes criminal reporting changes after Texas massacre We need a better pathway for allowing civilians to move guns across state lines MORE (Texas) and GOP Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids Dems push for more money for opioid fight 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 CruzDebbie Wasserman Schultz marks 10 years as breast cancer survivor Foreign agent registration is no magical shield against Russian propaganda Let Trump be Trump and he'll sail through 2020 MORE (R-Texas) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSupreme Court takes on same-sex wedding cake case House approves motion to go to tax conference — with drama Trump really will shrink government, starting with national monuments MORE (R-Utah) or mainstream Republicans such as Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Overnight Finance: House approves motion to go to tax conference — with drama | GOP leaders to consider Dec. 30 spending bill | Justices skeptical of ban on sports betting | Mulvaney won't fire official who sued him How four GOP senators guided a tax-bill victory behind the scenes MORE (Ohio) and Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerDems look to use Moore against GOP McConnell: 'No change of heart' on Roy Moore US trade deficit rises on record imports from China 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 CottonTom CottonGOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration Grassley offers DACA fix tied to tough enforcement measures Five things senators should ask Tom Cotton if he’s nominated to lead the CIA 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 HatchMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Utah governor calls Bannon a 'bigot' after attacks on Romney MORE (R-Utah); and Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Finance: Trump says shutdown 'could happen' | Ryan, conservatives inch closer to spending deal | Senate approves motion to go to tax conference | Ryan promises 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Senate approves motion to go to tax conference House conservatives, Ryan inch closer toward spending deal 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.