Senators huddle in Capitol to explore bipartisan path on ObamaCare

Senators huddle in Capitol to explore bipartisan path on ObamaCare
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

A bipartisan group of senators met in the Capitol on Monday night to discuss whether there is a bipartisan way forward on healthcare reform. 

The meeting was organized by Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash This week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick MORE (R-Maine) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who have put forward a more centrist healthcare plan that would allow states to keep much of ObamaCare in place if they choose. 

While senators said the meeting was preliminary and just discussing ideas broadly, the push for a bipartisan solution could potentially emerge as an alternative to the Republican-only repeal and replace approach from leadership. 

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“There is a group of us, both Republicans and Democrats, who are trying to see if there is a bipartisan path forward on healthcare reform,” Collins told reporters after the meeting. “I don't know yet whether there is but we thought it would be useful to invite some people to sit down and talk about ideas and talk about whether it would be possible to come up with a bipartisan bill.”

Collins and Cassidy said they did discuss their bill, but they are also open to other ideas. 

“We think our bill's a good place to start but I would not claim that anyone has signed onto our bill,” Cassidy said. 

Cassidy and Collins said that three or four Democratic senators attended the meeting, but they did not want to reveal their names without their consent. They said other Democrats have expressed interest as well. 

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Morrisey accuses Manchin of 'lying' to Trump, attacks ‘liberal’ record The Hill's Morning Report — Trump, Putin meet under cloud of Mueller’s Russia indictments MORE (D-W.Va.), another centrist, did speak to reporters after the meeting. 

"There's no way I can vote for repeal,” Manchin said. “And I can't vote for a tax break of $575 billion to the wealthy. And then the cuts to Medicaid and all the seniors that will get hurt. I said do they have any ideas of how that can be subverted? Is there any other pathway?”

Collins said that the group plans to meet again, but had not yet scheduled a time. 

She said that Republican leadership was aware of the meeting. 
 
"I think they recognize that there is a lot of interest in this issue, that it's extremely important and that it's obvious that members are going to talk to one another," Collins said of leadership. 
 
 
"It was a bipartisan meeting as you know, and I think that's probably a good thing," she said. 
 
Other senators spotted leaving the meeting include Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamKelly lobbied Republicans to rebuke Trump after Putin press conference: report Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash Trump stuns the world at Putin summit MORE (R-S.C.), who has called for a bipartisan approach, as well as Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska). 
 
Jessie Hellmann contributed.