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No. 2 Republican: Senate will pass healthcare bill this year

No. 2 Republican: Senate will pass healthcare bill this year
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Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Capital One — Pressure builds as UK approves COVID-19 vaccine Biden brushes off criticism of budget nominee Republican frustration builds over Cabinet picks MORE (R-Texas) pledged Tuesday that the Senate will pass a bill repealing and replacing ObamaCare this year.

Senators have been cautious not to commit themselves to an exact timeframe in the wake of last week’s House vote, but the upper chamber’s No. 2 Republican has said healthcare reform will be completed in 2017.

When pressed by reporters on whether a measure would be passed before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, he wouldn’t commit.

“No, no, I’m not going to play that game,” Cornyn said.

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Last week, Cornyn seemed disinterested in rushing the Senate to push a bill through, saying there was “no timeline.”

“When we get 51 senators, we’ll vote.”

On Thursday, the House narrowly passed the American Health Care Act, 217-213. The Senate has already formed a working group of moderates and conservatives to hammer out the upper chamber’s version of the bill.  

It’s unclear how much of the House bill will survive in the Senate. With a 52-48 majority, Senate Republicans have little margin for error. The bill only needs 51 votes to pass the Senate under the fast-track budget maneuver Republicans are using to repeal and replace ObamaCare, and Vice President Pence could swoop in to break a tie.

But several Republicans senators — such as Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanWaPo reporter says GOP has less incentive to go big on COVID-19 relief Republican frustration builds over Cabinet picks Senators call for passage of bill to cement alcohol excise tax relief MORE (Ohio) and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerOn The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Lobbying World Democrats spend big to put Senate in play MORE (Nev.) — have already said they wouldn’t support the House bill in its current form.

The Senate is looking to improve upon the House bill, Cornyn said.

“We're going to start with the House bill,” he said. “And to the extent that we can get 51 votes to keep it, we will keep it. If we have to make modifications in order to pass it, we'll make those modifications and work out the differences with the House.”

Potential changes include enhancing the tax credits to better help low-income Americans afford health insurance.

Additionally, senators are working to find a balance on Medicaid expansion; the House bill gutted the program in 2020. Some senators from expansion states are concerned about the quick timing of this rollback and are eying a smoother transition.