GOP infighting erupts over healthcare bill

Senate Republicans are struggling mightily to find a path forward for their ObamaCare repeal bill, with infighting between moderates and conservatives threatening to create an impasse heading into the July Fourth recess.

GOP leaders say they want to have an agreement on changes to the legislation by Friday, but senators said they made virtually no progress at a lunch meeting on Wednesday. In fact, the two sides appeared to grow further apart.

Conservatives represented by Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea GOP state lawmakers meet to plan possible constitutional convention MORE (R-Texas) squared off against moderates led by Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Ryan: Graham-Cassidy 'best, last chance' to repeal ObamaCare Collins skeptical of new ObamaCare repeal effort MORE (R-Maine) over lunch, according to lawmakers who attended.

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They battled over Cruz’s “Consumer Freedom” proposal, which would allow companies to sell health insurance plans that don’t meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

Collins and other moderates expressed strong opposition to the plan, fearing that it would lead to sicker Americans becoming segregated in the insurance markets.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Sen. Cassidy plans to bring down Medicaid Senate committee schedules hearing on health care block grants MORE (R-Wis.), meanwhile, continued to chastise leadership for not running a more open process in drafting the legislation and ignoring many ideas from rank-and-file colleagues — criticisms he has voiced over the past few weeks.

One senator described the talks as “running in circles.”

Cruz, leaving the lunch, told reporters that most of the discussion was about proposed market reforms to “reduce premiums to make health insurance more affordable for families who are struggling.”

Collins, who is worried about projections that millions of people will lose coverage under the Senate bill, said she remains concerned with “a number of aspects such as coverage, the Medicaid cuts.”

“Tinkering around the edges, adding a bit more money isn’t going to be the answer,” she said.

Walking out of the meeting, Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynNew GOP ObamaCare repeal bill gains momentum Week ahead: Senators near deal to stabilize ObamaCare markets GOP eying 'blue slip' break to help Trump fill the courts MORE (Texas) said leadership is aiming to come up with a bill by Friday that both moderates and conservatives can embrace, allowing a vote for the week after the July Fourth recess.

Cornyn said leaders want “to get a bill we can then get scored” by the Congressional Budget Office.

But several Senate Republicans scoffed at the timeline, saying it’s far too optimistic to think a deal can be reached in the next few days.

When asked about the prospects of getting a new bill by Friday, Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainSenate's defense authorization would set cyber doctrine Senate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions MORE (R-Ariz.) joked to reporters, “And pigs could fly!”

Collins, fellow moderate Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Lawmakers grapple with warrantless wiretapping program Overnight Health Care: New GOP ObamaCare repeal bill gains momentum MORE (R-Nev.) and conservative Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Lawmakers grapple with warrantless wiretapping program MORE (R-Ky.) all signaled this week they were unlikely to move from no to yes on the legislation by Friday.

Heller said during a tele-town hall meeting Tuesday that he does not think GOP colleagues are “anywhere close” to a deal and warned it would be “very difficult to get me to a yes,” according to Nevada political commentator Jon Ralston, who reported on the event.

Paul declared after the Wednesday lunch that the GOP conference is at “an impasse.”

He objects to core aspects of the bill as “new entitlements,” including refundable tax credits to help people afford coverage and billions of dollars in a “stabilization fund” intended to bring down premiums. 

Paul told reporters after the GOP lunch Wednesday that he suggested taking the stabilization fund out of the bill and passing it in a separate measure with Democratic votes. But he said his ideas did not go over well with his colleagues, likening his proposal to a “lead balloon.”

Collins on Wednesday said it’s time to work with Democrats instead of trying to win over 50 of 52 Republicans, including conservative holdouts such as Cruz, Paul and Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE (R-Utah).

“It’s hard for me to see how we get there. I think a better approach would be to try to involve some moderate Democrats in the process and see if we can come up with a bipartisan bill,” she said. “It’s never good to pass major legislation without the input of both parties.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate passes 0B defense bill Overnight Health Care: New GOP ObamaCare repeal bill gains momentum Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE (R-Ky.) postponed a vote he hoped to hold this week on the healthcare bill after five members of his conference warned they would vote against a motion to begin debate.

After he delayed the vote, three other Republicans — Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanWeek ahead in tech: Debate over online sex trafficking bill heats up 'Hillbilly Elegy' author won't run for Senate Brown, Portman urge Trump administration to move quickly on a steel decision MORE (Ohio), Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Moore CapitoOvernight Energy: House moves to block methane rule | EPA delays toxic water standard | Pick for FEMA No. 2 withdraws nomination Air Force One is Trump’s new boardroom Poll: West Virginians approve of Dem senator more than Trump MORE (W.Va.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranIT modernization measure included in Senate-approved defense policy bill Campaign video touts apprenticeships making Trump commemorative coins Senate approves Trump's debt deal with Democrats MORE (Kan.) — announced they opposed the measure.

A variety of Republican senators cycled in and out of McConnell’s Capitol office Wednesday as he scrambled to keep the legislation from collapsing.

He met with Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkow-ski and Dan Sullivan, who are worried about whether the bill’s tax credits are generous enough to help constituents buy insurance in a state where healthcare costs are several times more expensive than other parts of the country.

Moderates who worry the bill’s tax credits are not generous enough are wondering whether some of ObamaCare’s tax increases, such as a 3.8 percentage-point increase on capital gains, should be kept in place.

“I do not see a justification for doing away with the 3.8 percent tax on investment income, because that is not something that increases the cost of healthcare,” Collins told reporters.

Keeping that tax increase, however, would outrage conservatives. 

McConnell also met with Capito, who wants to raise the cap on Medicaid spending that would cut the program by $160 billion in 2026 compared to current law.

After 2025, the Senate bill sets a less generous formula than included in the House-passed bill to index Medicaid to inflation.

Conservatives led by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who had a role in drafting the bill, said the stricter Medicaid inflation formula is “very important.”

Also on the conservative side, an aide to Lee said his boss had not yet met in person with McConnell, but that their two staffs were working on a change related to the ability of states to opt out of ObamaCare regulations.

The ability for states to repeal more of those regulations is key for Lee, as it is for Cruz and other conservatives.

Aside from the moderates, some Republican senators are growing impatient with conservatives holding out after campaigning for years to repeal ObamaCare.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchFinance to hold hearing on ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea Week ahead in finance: Clock ticking for GOP on tax reform MORE (R-Utah) grumbled that conservatives, whom he called “recalcitrants,” are inadvertently helping the Democrats keep the controversial law intact.

He said Democrats may eventually bring about “socialized Medicine” and warned “it may take a few of these conservative Republicans to help the Democrats be able to do that to us.”

Jordain Carney contributed.