Senate GOP eyes July vote on healthcare

Senate GOP eyes July vote on healthcare
© Greg Nash

Senate Republican leaders will present options on an ObamaCare replacement bill at Tuesday’s GOP lunch meeting, as lawmakers get down to decisionmaking time on the bill.

Despite skepticism from some Republican lawmakers about whether a deal to get a bill passed is possible, leaders are pushing forward and heading toward a vote on a bill, regardless of whether it has enough support to pass.

Senators and aides said leaders will present options on a healthcare bill to the Republican conference at a closed-door meeting on Tuesday. Aides said they do not expect draft legislative text to be available then, but said the presentation of options will help narrow down final decisions and move toward that stage.

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“We're at the point where we have to start making decisions,” Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneWeek ahead: Tech giants to testify on extremist content Overnight Tech: GOP senator presses Apple over phone slowdowns | YouTube cancels projects with Logan Paul after suicide video | CEOs push for DACA fix | Bill would punish credit agencies for breaches GOP senator presses Apple on phone slowdowns MORE (R-S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, said after leaving a leadership meeting in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Overnight Finance: Lawmakers see shutdown odds rising | Trump calls for looser rules for bank loans | Consumer bureau moves to revise payday lending rule | Trump warns China on trade deficit MORE’s (R-Ky.) office on Monday evening.

Thune said lawmakers are “probably not quite there yet,” regarding legislative text, “but I think that that's going to happen soon.”

“We are narrowing the policy options and now the process is much more granular than it was when we first started out,” he added.

“I think tomorrow you'll see a draft of the draft,” Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsGOP senators eager for Romney to join them Canada tamps down worries about US NAFTA withdrawal Canada worried Trump will withdraw from NAFTA: report MORE (R-Kan.) said.

Thune said “ideally” the Senate could vote on the health insurance bill before the Fourth of July recess, or by the end of July at the latest, before Congress leaves for its August break.

Asked when the Senate would vote on a bill, Sen. John CornynJohn CornynMcCarthy: ‘No deadline on DACA’ NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Hoyer suggests Dems won't support spending bill without DACA fix MORE (R-Texas) said, "July sometime."

“My personal view is we've got until about the Fourth of July to decide whether the votes are there or not and I hope they are,” said Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP senators eager for Romney to join them Senate GOP wary of ending Russia probes, despite pressure GOP on precipice of major end-of-year tax victory MORE (R-Mo.).

Several Republican senators expressed pessimism during last week’s recess that Senate lawmakers could bridge their differences to get to the 50 votes needed to pass a bill.

Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrNSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Senate Intel chairman: No need for committee to interview Bannon McConnell: Russia probe must stay bipartisan to be credible MORE (R-N.C.) said last week it is “unlikely” the Senate will reach a deal to pass an ObamaCare replacement bill this year.

Thune said the Senate would hold a vote on an ObamaCare replacement bill regardless of the whip count, bringing some finality to the issue.

“Obviously we're going to have a vote one way or the other, but if we don't pass something and we go into ’18 ... it's on us to try and get this fixed,” Thune said. “The Democrats created the mess, but we're in charge now and it's up to us to fix it.”

What to do about ObamaCare’s expansion of Medicaid, which has provided coverage for about 11 million people in 31 states, is perhaps the most difficult issue for Republicans to bridge.

Some more moderate Republicans are pushing for a slower phase-out of the extra federal funds for the expansion, pushing the date past 2020.

Illustrating the difficulty for Republicans is Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoGOP may increase IRS’s budget People with addiction issues should be able to control their own health data Trump signs bipartisan bill to combat synthetic opioids MORE (R-W.Va.), whose state expanded the program, and who on Monday left open the possibility that she might not want to phase out the expansion of funding at all.

A slower phase-out would be “helpful,” she said, before adding, “I'm not saying I support phasing it out.”

More conservative members of the Senate, meanwhile, are pushing for a new cap on overall Medicaid payments to rise at a slower rate, known as the urban consumer price index, which would reduce federal Medicaid spending further.

Thune said he is working with the Congressional Budget Office on his plan to increase the tax credits in the bill to give more help to low-income people than what’s contained in the House-passed measure.  

"We expect the summer to be focused on passing healthcare and the [fiscal 2018] budget, so that this fall we can reconcile the budget with tax reform," White House adviser Marc Short said on a Monday evening call with reporters.  

Rachel Roubein contributed.