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 CruzGroup aiming to draft Beto O’Rourke unveils first 2020 video Howard Dean looking for a 'younger, newer' Democratic nominee in 2020 Congress can stop the war on science MORE (R-Texas) squared off against moderates led by Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP seeks to change narrative in shutdown fight Trump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback The Memo: Concern over shutdown grows in Trump World 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 JohnsonCongress sends bill renewing anti-terrorism program to Trump The Hill's Morning Report — Shutdown fallout — economic distress Hillicon Valley: Republicans demand answers from mobile carriers on data practices | Top carriers to stop selling location data | DOJ probing Huawei | T-Mobile execs stayed at Trump hotel as merger awaited approval 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 CornynGraham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Trump tells GOP senators he’s sticking to Syria and Afghanistan pullout  Texas governor, top lawmakers tell Trump not to use hurricane relief funds to build border wall 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 McCainOvernight Health Care: HHS chief refuses to testify on family separations | Grassley to test GOP on lowering drug prices | PhRMA spends record on lobbying in 2018 Will a Democratic woman break the glass ceiling in 2020? Republican state lawmaker introduces bill that would tax porn to fund Trump's border wall MORE (R-Ariz.) joked to reporters, “And pigs could fly!”

Collins, fellow moderate Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerOregon Dem top recipient of 2018 marijuana industry money, study finds Trump’s shifting Cabinet to introduce new faces Trump's most memorable insults and nicknames of 2018 MORE (R-Nev.) and conservative Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSinkhole opens up a block away from White House Civil rights group marks MLK Day with call for 'Trump card' national ID Pressure mounts for Trump to reconsider Syria withdrawal 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 LeeHillicon Valley: Trump AG pick signals new scrutiny on tech giants | Wireless providers in new privacy storm | SEC brings charges in agency hack | Facebook to invest 0M in local news AG pick Barr wants closer scrutiny of Silicon Valley 'behemoths' Grassroots political participation is under attack in Utah and GOP is fighting back 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 McConnellBudowsky: Pelosi can break shutdown stalemate GOP seeks to change narrative in shutdown fight On The Money: Shutdown Day 32 | Senate to vote on dueling funding measures | GOP looks to change narrative | Dems press Trump on recalled workers | Kudlow predicts economy will 'snap back' after shutdown 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 PortmanUSDA to recall more than 9,000 furloughed workers to provide farm aid Senate Dem introduces 'Stop Stupidity' act to end government shutdowns Senators look for possible way to end shutdown MORE (Ohio), Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoOvernight Energy: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans Dems blast EPA nominee at confirmation hearing Republican senators skeptical of using national emergency for wall funding MORE (W.Va.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranOn The Money: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Overnight Defense: Trump faces blowback over report he discussed leaving NATO | Pentagon extends mission on border | Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions 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 HatchPhRMA CEO 'hopeful' Trump officials will back down on drug pricing move Live coverage: Trump AG pick grilled on Mueller probe at confirmation hearing Trump praises RNC chairwoman after she criticizes her uncle Mitt Romney 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.