GOP facing likely failure on ObamaCare repeal

Congressional Republicans are facing the prospect of failing this week — perhaps for a final time — in their bid to repeal ObamaCare.

Senate Republicans have yet to throw in the towel, but it seems more than likely their nine-month odyssey will be unsuccessful, with Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLawmakers worry about rise of fake video technology Democrats put Dreamers and their party in danger by playing hardball Trump set a good defense budget, but here is how to make it better MORE (R-Ariz.) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulDem wins Kentucky state House seat in district Trump won by 49 points GOP's tax reform bait-and-switch will widen inequality Pentagon budget euphoria could be short-lived MORE (R-Ky.) opposed to the measure and Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Tech: Judge blocks AT&T request for DOJ communications | Facebook VP apologizes for tweets about Mueller probe | Tech wants Treasury to fight EU tax proposal Overnight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand FCC to officially rescind net neutrality rules on Thursday MORE (R-Maine) leaning strongly against it.

Republicans can lose just two votes and still muscle the bill through the Senate in the face of unanimous Democratic opposition.

They also face a Sept. 30 deadline. After this week, they will lose the ability to use special budgetary rules on ObamaCare repeal that prevent a Democratic filibuster.

GOP Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Pence tours Rio Grande between US and Mexico GOP looks for Plan B after failure of immigration measures MORE (S.C.) and Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyTo lower prescription drug prices, fix existing drug discount programs Kimmel writer tweets amount NRA has given lawmakers in response to shooting prayers Overnight Regulation: Trump unveils budget | Sharp cuts proposed for EPA, HHS | Trump aims to speed environmental reviews | Officials propose repealing most of methane leak rule MORE (La.), aiming to keep their bill alive, made last-minute changes to the legislation over the weekend, including directing more funding toward states of holdout senators.

Collins told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that she had “a number of serious reservations” about Cassidy and Graham's bill, which would end ObamaCare’s expansion of Medicaid and repeal much of the law, replacing it with block grant funding for states.

Her comments did nothing to assuage GOP fears that there is little chance of winning her vote.

Separately, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Health Care: Trump eases rules on insurance outside ObamaCare | HHS office on religious rights gets 300 complaints in a month | GOP chair eyes opioid bill vote by Memorial Day HHS official put on leave amid probe into social media posts Trump, Pence to address CPAC this week MORE (R-Texas) said that as the bill now stood, he would be a no vote, as would fellow conservative Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe 14 GOP senators who voted against Trump’s immigration framework Prison sentencing bill advances over Sessions objections Grassley ‘incensed’ by Sessions criticism of proposed sentencing reform legislation MORE (R-Utah). Cruz said the duo wants changes made that they believe would lower premium costs.

While some believed Cruz and Lee can be won over, it’s harder to see Republicans convincing Paul, Collins and McCain to reverse course. And a fourth GOP senator, Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe siren of Baton Rouge Interior plan to use drilling funds for new projects met with skepticism The 14 GOP senators who voted against Trump’s immigration framework MORE of Alaska, voted against the “skinny” repeal bill earlier this summer and may also be a no vote.

It’s a surprise position for the GOP, which had high hopes about repealing ObamaCare after President Trump won the White House, leaving Republicans in control of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Nearly a year later, the consensus among Republican lawmakers, aides and strategists is that the job of dismantling ObamaCare turned out to be a lot tougher than they ever expected.

“I think they confused sloganeering with planning and they fell more in love with the slogan than actual governing,” said John Weaver, a Republican strategist.

“We never repealed an entitlement program in this country. Why they thought this would be something simple, easy or even appropriate is beyond me,” he added.

Paul and Collins both expressed irritations over the GOP’s effort in their separate Sunday show appearances.

“When we’re dealing with a sixth of our economy and millions of people, you can’t do sound health insurance policy this way,” Collins said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“You need to have extensive hearings. The Democrats must come to the table,” said Collins, echoing complaints McCain made when he issued a statement on Friday afternoon opposing the bill.

Republicans face a difficult balancing act in trying to win over McCain, Murkowski and Collins as they also face complaints from the right.

Paul warned Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that if Republicans vote for a replacement plan that keeps core elements of ObamaCare in place, “the Republican name will be on health care and this isn’t going to work.”

“You’re going to end up having Republicans absorb the blame for a terrible health-care system,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers feel pressure on guns Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Curbelo Dem rival lashes out over immigration failure MORE (R-Ky.) has come under enormous pressure to make progress on ObamaCare repeal from Trump, who was furious when McCain voted no on a slimmed-down version of repeal in July.

Trump and McConnell also have plenty of stake this week in Alabama, where Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeThe Trump Presidency: Year One Dems search for winning playbook Stephen Bannon steps down from Breitbart MORE (R) is facing a tough primary challenge from conservative Roy Moore, a former state Supreme Court chief justice. Moore has been ahead in polls despite Trump and McConnell’s backing of Strange. Voters go to the polls for the primary runoff on Tuesday.

A Strange defeat coupled with another loss on ObamaCare threatens to sink the Trump-McConnell relationship to a new low — which just adds to the pressure of the week.

As Republicans near what might be a decisive defeat on health care, some in the GOP argue their party made a mistake in tackling the decisive issue as the first order of business instead of tax cuts, which is more of a GOP specialty and more popular politically.

“We should have started with taxes,” said one Senate GOP aide. “It’s not easy for Republicans to coalesce around health care. We know how to cut taxes.”

No matter what happens this week on health care, tax reform is the next item on the Trump-GOP agenda.

But the effort will go forward on a whimper if the party suffers yet another disappointment on health care this week.