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In Senate, pessimism over ObamaCare repeal

Republican senators say they don’t see a way to get healthcare reform over the finish line, even if the House passes a bill this week.

A senior GOP senator said the chances of getting 51 votes for legislation based on the House healthcare bill are less than 1 in 5.

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The senator also put the chances that the House bill will meet Senate budgetary rules preventing a filibuster at less than 1 in 5, meaning portions of the legislation would have to be removed.

Lawmakers are keeping quiet about their concerns because they want to help Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanBiden's relationship with top House Republican is frosty The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney Budowsky: Liz Cheney vs. conservatives in name only MORE (R-Wis.), whose job they fear may be in jeopardy if the House fails again to approve an ObamaCare repeal bill.

“Paul Ryan is a talented and thoughtful legislator and leader. It’s important for him to succeed,” said one GOP senator.

But the GOP senators are also preparing: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBipartisanship has become a partisan weapon Washington showing signs of normalcy after year of restrictions Former OMB pick Neera Tanden to serve as senior adviser to Biden MORE (R-Ky.) has convened a group of conservatives and moderates to figure out what healthcare legislation could get 51 votes on the Senate floor.

McConnell and the top two members of his leadership team, Senate GOP Whip John CornynJohn CornynGOP split on counteroffer to Biden's spending Police reform talks hit familiar stumbling block CNN asks Carol Baskin to comment on loose Texas tiger MORE (Texas) and GOP Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneLawmakers bicker over how to go after tax cheats GOP split on counteroffer to Biden's spending Senate GOP dismayed by vote to boot Cheney MORE (S.D.), met with the group Tuesday.

People who attended the meeting said the group is trying to figure out if a consensus can be reached among Senate Republicans on an ObamaCare replacement bill.

If the group can’t reach an agreement, there is already discussion on whether a bill should be brought to the floor.

McConnell says he is committed to getting a result.

“We don’t want to give up on this,” he said, before warning that “it’ll be a real big challenge on the Senate side.”

In March, before the House bill collapsed the first time, the Senate plan was to bring the legislation directly to the Senate floor, bypassing committee action. It’s not clear whether those plans are now in flux.

The working group’s formation is also meant to keep individual senators from going off on their own.

McConnell doesn’t want conservative mavericks such as Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzBipartisanship has become a partisan weapon Former OMB pick Neera Tanden to serve as senior adviser to Biden Seth Rogen says he's not in a feud with 'fascist' Ted Cruz, whose 'words caused people to die' MORE (R-Texas) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Energy: Colonial Pipeline says it has restored full service | Biden urges people not to panic about gasoline shortages | EPA rescinds Trump-era cost-benefit rule Senate panel advances Biden's deputy Interior pick Hillicon Valley: Global cybersecurity leaders say they feel unprepared for attack | Senate Commerce Committee advances Biden's FTC nominee Lina Khan | Senate panel approves bill that would invest billions in tech MORE (R-Utah) or mainstream Republicans such as Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanBipartisanship has become a partisan weapon Carper urges Biden to nominate ambassadors amid influx at border Fudge violated the Hatch Act, watchdog finds MORE (Ohio) and Cory GardnerCory GardnerBiden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule | Bureau of Land Management exodus: Agency lost 87 percent of staff in Trump HQ relocation | GM commits to electric light duty fleet by 2035 MORE (Colo.) staking out positions at odds with colleagues, according to a person familiar with the meeting. 

All four of those senators attended Tuesday’s meeting, along with Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonTim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Opposition to refugees echoes one of America's most shameful moments White House defends CDC outreach to teachers union MORE (R-Ark.), a conservative who criticized the House healthcare reform push earlier this year; Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who has been working on his own proposals; Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchFinancial market transactions should not be taxed or restricted Bottom line The Republicans' deep dive into nativism MORE (R-Utah); and Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderThe Republicans' deep dive into nativism Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation - CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality MORE (R-Tenn.).

Republican senators say the House bill will have to undergo substantial revision if it ever passes the lower chamber, and they have serious doubts about whether the House will accept those changes.

GOP senators think it’s unlikely the compromise struck between members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and moderate Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), which allows states to seek a waiver for certain ObamaCare insurance regulations, will pass muster with the Senate parliamentarian.

Republicans are using special rules known as budget reconciliation to avoid a Democratic filibuster on an ObamaCare replacement. This would allow them to pass the legislation with 51 votes.

The problem is that Senate Democrats are expected to argue that various parts of the House bill will not meet Senate rules governing what can be included in reconciliation.

Democrats will argue that those provisions, such as a rule allowing states to seek a waiver for a regulation that requires insurers to offer certain minimum benefits, do not have a straightforward connection to spending, taxes or the deficit — something required under reconciliation.

Cornyn said the House bill — if it passes — will have to be revised.

“I suspect the bill the House passes will be modified if for no other reason that the reconciliation rules would require it,” he said. “My goal would be if they pass a bill, which I hope they will, it will come over here and we’ll do our best work to cobble together 51 votes.”

Another GOP lawmakers said the House bill will have to be changed “a lot.”

Some senators argue the push in the House could set up the Senate for blame.

“All they care about is getting it out of the House so they can say that the Senate couldn’t pass healthcare reform,” said a second GOP senator who requested anonymity.

Still, this lawmaker said GOP senators are ready to help Ryan out even if it means they shoulder the blame for killing a bill that faces a steep climb to enactment.

Ryan took a public pummeling after he failed to muster enough votes to pass healthcare reform in March. He was hurt by statements — some public and some anonymous — by senators casting doubt on whether the bill could pass the Senate, undermining the resolve of House lawmakers to take a tough vote.

Senators have been more careful not to make Ryan’s job tougher this time around.

“People recognize the need to move forward and have conversations about how to make a bill better, but to do so less from a soapbox but more from a position of working together and collaboration,” said Gardner, who signed a letter to McConnell in March criticizing the House bill’s Medicaid provisions.