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Senate Republicans to discuss reviving Obamacare repeal-and-replace plan

This comes after Trump told senators they shouldn’t leave town without an Obamacare replacement.

Updated

Updated, 3:23 p.m.: A group of Senate Republicans who opposed earlier plans to repeal and replace Obamacare will meet on Wednesday evening to try to hash out their differences, senators said.

GOP leaders are still pushing for a way to advance a health bill next week even after two different repeal plans fell apart. Key Republican senators left a health care meeting at the White House sounding more optimistic that they could revive their bill to dismantle and replace the Affordable Care Act.

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“We’re discussing that,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said when asked whether some version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act was coming back. “I’m more optimistic that that would be the case. But if there’s no agreement, then we’ll still vote on the motion to proceed but it’ll be to the 2015 just-repeal bill.”

Original story:
President Donald Trump told Republican senators on Wednesday that they shouldn’t leave town for August recess without repealing and replacing Obamacare, a point he stressed at least three times.

“People are hurting. Inaction is not an option,” Trump said during a lunch with Senate Republicans at the White House. “And, frankly, I don’t think we should leave town unless we have a health insurance plan, unless we can give our people great health care. Because we’re close. We’re very close.”

Despite the president’s expression of optimism, Republican senators aren’t close to repealing and replacing Obamacare, as they’ve promised to do for years.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Tuesday that the chamber will hold a vote to begin Obamacare debate next week, but the vote is likely to fail. In brief remarks to reporters outside the White House Wednesday afternoon, the majority leader said he has “every expectation that we’ll be able to get on the bill” when the motion to proceed is brought up for a vote next week.

The White House has sent mixed signals about what it believes is the best path forward. Trump this week has seemingly endorsed a simultaneous repeal and replacement of the law; a repeal first, replace later course; and no action at all in hopes Obamacare fails on its own. But the president was clear Wednesday that Republicans should repeal and replace his predecessor’s signature legislative achievement.

Perhaps seeking to smooth the varying strategies presented by Trump over the last 48 hours, McConnell said Wednesday “we have two options here” when it comes to passing healthcare reform: a repeal-and-replace path or a repeal now, replace later approach. McConnell said “we all agree” that the former is the preferred approach, but without a compromise on an Obamacare replacement, “there is a large majority in our conference that want to demonstrate to the American people that they intend to keep the commitment they made in four straight elections to repeal Obamacare.”

“It’s pretty obvious we’ve had difficulty in getting 50 votes to proceed,” McConnell said. “But what I want to disabuse any of you of is the notion that we will not have that vote next week. We’re going to vote on the motion to proceed to the bill next week.”

Trump said he was surprised to see his “friends” — “They might not be very much longer,” he quipped — oppose Senate leaders’ plan. He singled out Dean Heller, who is widely considered the GOP’s most vulnerable incumbent in 2018, suggesting he was once worried but is now confident the Nevada senator will come around to supporting a replacement bill.

“Look,” Trump told the room of Republicans, “he wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he? OK? And I think the people of your state, which I know very well, I think they’re gonna appreciate what you hopefully will do.”

The president further warned that any Republican senator who votes against starting debate “is really telling America that you’re fine with Obamacare.” Enough senators have already said they plan to block a motion to proceed, imperiling next week’s vote.

“But being fine with Obamacare isn’t an option for another reason,” Trump added. “Because it’s gone. It’s failed. Not gonna be around. We pay hundreds of millions of dollars a month in subsidies that the court doesn’t even want us to pay, and when those payments stop, it stops immediately.”

A vote for debate, however, allows senators to “debate the future of health care and suggest different ways to improve the bill,” Trump said. He also reiterated that “we have to stay here” and “shouldn’t leave town” without replacing Obamacare.

McConnell has already delayed the start of the Senate’s recess until mid-August “to provide more time to complete action on important legislative items” and advance the president’s nominees who require Senate confirmation.

Trump suggested Wednesday that the GOP plan is not just “good” but “great” — and “better than Obamacare.” In fact, he argued, “If we’re weak on anything, it’s on letting people know how good it was.”

Donald Trump is pictured. | Getty

According to the Congressional Budget Office, Senate Republicans’ initial plan would leave 22 million more Americans uninsured by 2026, and premiums would rise by up to 30 percent before falling in 2026.

“Your premiums will be down 60 and 70 percent,” Trump claimed, more than tripling the CBO’s projections of premiums falling 20 percent, a decline that wouldn’t take effect until 2026. He added that “people don’t know” about his premium claim because “nobody hears it” and “nobody talks about it.”

“You’ll have insurance companies bidding. You’ll have forms of insurance that you don’t even know about right now because that’s the way it works,” Trump pledged. “There’s gonna be tremendous competition.”

He again stated that Republicans could just repeal Obamacare but maintained that they should also replace it.

“And we shouldn’t leave town until this is complete, until this bill is on my desk and until we all go over to the Oval Office,” he insisted. “I’ll sign it, and we can celebrate for the American people.”

Trump hasn’t celebrated passage of any major legislation since busing House Republicans over to the White House after they narrowly passed their Obamacare bill. That was May 4.

“We’re gonna get this passed through the Senate,” Trump said then. “I feel so confident.”

Madeline Conway and Louis Nelson contributed to this report.

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