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 McCainMeghan McCain to produce 'Don't Sweat the Small Stuff' Lifetime movie starring Heather Locklear An August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done Meghan McCain on Pelosi, McCarthy fight: 'I think they're all bad' MORE (R-Ariz.) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulKaine says he has votes to pass Iraq War repeal in Senate Overnight Defense: Senate panel votes to scrap Iraq war authorizations | Police officer fatally stabbed outside Pentagon ID'd | Biden admin approves first Taiwan arms sale Senate panel votes to repeal Iraq war authorizations MORE (R-Ky.) opposed to the measure and Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate finalizes .2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill Schumer: Democrats 'on track' to pass bipartisan deal, .5T budget 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.

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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 Graham19 House Democrats call on Capitol physician to mandate vaccines The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by AT&T - Simone wins bronze with altered beam routine The job of shielding journalists is not finished MORE (S.C.) and Bill CassidyBill CassidyGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate Senators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Optimism grows that infrastructure deal will get to Biden's desk 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 Defense: Senate panel votes to scrap Iraq war authorizations | Police officer fatally stabbed outside Pentagon ID'd | Biden admin approves first Taiwan arms sale Senate panel votes to repeal Iraq war authorizations America's pandemic of COVID hypocrisy 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 LeeKaine says he has votes to pass Iraq War repeal in Senate New hurdle slows trillion infrastructure bill This week: Senate starts infrastructure sprint 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 MurkowskiKaine says he has votes to pass Iraq War repeal in Senate Ohio special election: A good day for Democrats Graham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate 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 McConnellOn The Money: Trump asks court to block release of tax returns to Congress | Private sector adds 330K jobs in July, well short of expectations Senate panel advances first three spending bills McConnell lays out GOP demands for government-funding deal 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 StrangePandemic proves importance of pharmaceutical innovation The Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings Trump faces test of power with early endorsements 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.