Moderates holding back support for new Senate bill

It's unclear whether Senate Republicans have the votes to win on a key procedural motion that would allow them to debate the new healthcare bill they released on Thursday.

Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRand Paul ‘concerned’ about Kavanaugh Rand Paul on Russia indictments: We should focus on protecting elections instead of 'witch hunt on the president' Sunday shows preview: Trump readies for meeting with Putin MORE (R-Ky.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick McConnell: Senate to confirm Kavanaugh by Oct. 1 Overnight Health Care: Watchdog finds Tom Price improperly used funds on flights | Ex-Novartis CEO sent drug pricing proposal to Cohen | HHS staffers depart after controversial social media posts MORE (R-Maine) both said they would oppose the motion, meaning Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDoug Jones walks tightrope on Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh gets questionnaires for confirmation hearing Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick MORE (R-Ky.) cannot afford another defection on the vote.

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh Sens introduce bipartisan bill matching Zinke proposed maintenance backlog fix On The Money: Trump backs off investment restrictions on China | McConnell opens door to tariff legislation | Supreme Court deals blow to public-sector unions, ruling against 'fair-share' fees MORE (R-Ohio) said his position had not changed, but he did not give a clear answer on whether he'd back his party on the procedural vote.

Asked whether he would vote for the motion to proceed, Portman said, “No.”

But he added: “I'm the same position I've been in. I'm looking at the language.”

Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoSenate takes symbolic shot at Trump tariffs America must act to ensure qualified water workforce Overnight Health Care: Big win at Supreme Court for anti-abortion centers | HHS chief grilled on migrant children | Boom time for ObamaCare insurers? MORE (R-W.Va.), who has been an ally of Portman's during the healthcare talks, said she doesn’t know whether she’ll vote to proceed to the bill after hearing a presentation from Senate Republican leaders at the Capitol.

“We have another meeting this afternoon on the Medicaid cuts,” she told reporters. “I need to really look at it, look at the score, I still have concerns.”

Asked if she would vote for the motion to proceed next week, she said, “Wait and see.”

Capito also said she did not know whether her concerns could be addressed through the amendment process.

“I’m going to hold comment on that.” 

GOP moderates are planning to meet later Thursday afternoon to discuss their concerns with the bill, which would phase out federal funding for expended Medicaid enrollment and impose a stricter formula for indexing the program to inflation.

Portman, Capito and two other moderates, Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiDem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick McConnell: Senate to confirm Kavanaugh by Oct. 1 Overnight Energy: House to vote on anti-carbon tax measure | Dem says EPA obstructed 'politically charged' FOIA requests | GOP looks to overhaul endangered species law MORE (R-Alaska) and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerJacky Rosen hits Dean Heller over health care in first negative ad GOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE MORE (R-Nev.), were spotted walking into McConnell’s office shortly after lunchtime.

Heller said he’s on the fence over how to vote on beginning the debate next week. 

“No decisions have been made yet so we’ll continue the conversation,” Heller told reporters. 

Murkowski on Wednesday argued that Medicaid reforms should be kept separate from legislation repealing and replacing ObamaCare.

She views the adoption of a less generous formula for Medicaid inflation as something outside the scope of the Senate healthcare bill.

“It goes into a level of Medicaid reform, traditional Medicaid reform, that had nothing to do with [the Affordable Care Act,]” she said, using ObamaCare’s formal name. 

“Let’s leave Medicaid off the table for right now. Let’s bifurcate this,” she said. “This is not something that, in my view, is best done in a reconciliation process.”

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzThe Memo: Trump leaves chaos in his wake in UK Beto O'Rourke is dominating Ted Cruz in enthusiasm and fundraising — but he's still headed for defeat GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE MORE (R-Texas) said he could support the new bill, a key win for McConnell.

"If this is the bill, I will support this bill," Cruz told reporters after a meeting of GOP senators. "Now, if it’s amended and we lose the protections that lower premiums my view could well change."

Language backed by Cruz was included in the new version, but it's unclear whether it will be retained.

Even with the addition of Cruz, however, McConnell faces more uncertainty.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who teamed up with Collins earlier this year to push alternative legislation, told reporters before a Thursday lunch meeting that he was not sure whether he would vote to let the bill advance.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainRand Paul ‘concerned’ about Kavanaugh Senate Dems tell Trump: Don't meet with Putin one-on-one McConnell: Senate to confirm Kavanaugh by Oct. 1 MORE (R-Ariz.) also voiced dismay with the legislative plan presented to the GOP conference Thursday.

He said he will vote for the motion to begin debate, but complained that the three amendments Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) wanted in the legislation were left out.

Portman and other moderates — with the exception of Collins — did not rule out the possibility of changing their minds before the Senate is expected to vote next week.

Paul has long opposed the bill, arguing it leaves much of ObamaCare in place.

This report was updated at 2:37 p.m.