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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 RyanPelosi, Schumer: Trump 'desperate' to put focus on immigration, not health care Trump urges Dems to help craft new immigration laws: ‘Chuck & Nancy, call me!' Sanders, Harris set to criss-cross Iowa 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 McConnellDemocrats slide in battle for Senate McConnell and wife confronted by customers at restaurant Pelosi, Schumer: Trump 'desperate' to put focus on immigration, not health care 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 CornynO'Rourke's rise raises hopes for Texas Dems down ballot Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke debate showdown Live coverage: Cruz faces O'Rourke in Texas debate showdown MORE (Texas) and GOP Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Through a national commitment to youth sports, we can break the obesity cycle Florida politics play into disaster relief debate 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 CruzDemocrats slide in battle for Senate O'Rourke's rise raises hopes for Texas Dems down ballot Election Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue MORE (R-Texas) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenators pledge action on Saudi journalist’s disappearance Bernie Sanders: US should pull out of war in Yemen if Saudis killed journalist Senators warn Trump that Saudi relationship is on the line MORE (R-Utah) or mainstream Republicans such as Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanOn The Money: Mnuchin to attend anti-terror meeting in Saudi Arabia | Treasury releases guidance on 'opportunity zone' program | Maxine Waters gets company in new GOP line of attack Election Countdown: O'Rourke brings in massive M haul | Deal on judges lets senators return to the trail | Hurricane puts Florida candidates in the spotlight | Adelson spending big to save GOP in midterms How Kavanaugh got the votes  MORE (Ohio) and Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerElection Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue Democrats must end mob rule GOP senators praise Haley as 'powerful' and 'unafraid' 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 CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonFlake: Congress should not continue Kavanaugh investigations GOP senator suspects Schumer of being behind release of Ford letter Susan Collins becomes top 2020 target for Dems 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 HatchGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Congress should work with Trump and not 'cowboy' on Saudi Arabia, says GOP senator US to open trade talks with Japan, EU, UK MORE (R-Utah); and Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Senate blocks Dem measure on short-term health plans | Trump signs bill banning drug price 'gag clauses' | DOJ approves Aetna-CVS merger | Juul ramps up lobbying Trump signs bills banning drug pricing 'gag clauses' Senate defeats measure to overturn Trump expansion of non-ObamaCare plans 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.