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 ThuneGun proposal picks up GOP support Overnight Regulation: Senate panel approves driverless car bill | House bill to change joint-employer rule advances | Treasury to withdraw proposed estate tax rule | Feds delaying Obama methane leak rule Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform MORE (R-S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, said after leaving a leadership meeting in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGun proposal picks up GOP support Children’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform 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 RobertsThe Hill's Whip List: Republicans try again on ObamaCare repeal No. 2 Senate Republican backs McConnell in Trump fight Overnight Healthcare: McConnell warns Senate not to block repeal debate | Insurers knock Cruz proposal | WH tries to discredit CBO | Lawmakers propose .1B NIH funding boost 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 CornynGun proposal picks up GOP support House bill set to reignite debate on warrantless surveillance Republicans jockey for position on immigration 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 BluntThe Hill's Whip List: Republicans try again on ObamaCare repeal Another health funding cliff puts care for millions at risk Top Senate Dem: We're going forward with understanding we can work with White House on DACA 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 BurrTrump: Why isn't Senate looking into 'Fake News Networks'? Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open Special counsel looking into dossier as part of Russia probe: report 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 Moore CapitoLawmakers try again on miners’ pension bill How the effort to replace ObamaCare failed It's time to eliminate the secretive Pharmacy Benefit Manager pricing practices 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.