Lacking support, GOP puts off key repeal vote

Senate Republicans have put off a critical procedural vote on their Obamacare repeal bill until Wednesday at the earliest, as they fight desperately to come up with the 50 votes needed to start debate on the bill.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the GOP’s chief whip counter, said Tuesday that the vote would be held “sometime tomorrow.” He previously said the vote could be held Tuesday or Wednesday.

And Republicans are now weighing whether to further delay the vote, sources said.

At least five Senate Republicans — moderate Sens. Susan Collins and Dean Heller and conservative Sens. Ron Johnson, Rand Paul and Mike Lee — have said they’re not ready to vote on the Obamacare repeal bill without alterations. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can only afford to lose two senators, and a significant bloc of other senators are undecided.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), one of the swing votes on the bill, said not voting Tuesday “is good, because I don’t think we’re ready to proceed today. This person is not ready to proceed today.”

Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio also would not commit to supporting a vote to advance the bill, and said he has "serious concerns about the Medicaid and opioids issues."

Both McConnell and Vice President Mike Pence were expected to meet with reluctant Republicans Tuesday as the GOP hunts for the votes together to fulfil their seven-year campaign pledge to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

They have some money to play with. The CBO score left the GOP with about $188 billion more revenue than they need, meaning Republicans can put that savings in programs to shore up premium reduction efforts, anti-opioid spending or, as some conservative Republicans want, deficit reduction.

"We’ve been talking about Medicaid, seeing if we can get it right for the states," said Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado regarding further changes to the bill.

Sen. Marco Rubio is meeting with McConnell and Florida Gov. Rick Scott Tuesday to discuss tweaks to the bill aimed at shoring up the state’s Medicaid program and boosting competition in the individual market.

Rubio didn’t specify the changes he wants, saying only that he’s concerned about giving people the flexibility to purchase the coverage they want while still keeping the market stable.

Sen. Rand Paul will meet personally with Trump on Tuesday afternoon, the senator said Monday. The Kentucky senator has been among the most resistant Republicans to the Senate’s repeal bill.

McConnell met privately with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Tuesday morning. Cruz has been noncommittal on even voting to start debate on the bill but said afterward that he was having "productive conversations" with GOP leaders.

"My focus remains where it has been throughout this process which is on lowering premiums," Cruz said. "There are a host of specific reforms that the working group has been discussing."

Cruz declined to say whether he would vote to start debate, instead saying that he is continuing to work on the bill.

Cruz has been pushing the GOP to gut more Obamacare regulations, allow insurance to be sold across state lines, allow cheaper plans to be sold and expand health savings accounts.
Another GOP skeptic, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) won’t commit to voting for debate on the bill until further changes are made, an aide said.

Pence, meanwhile, holed up in his Senate hideaway and is expected to attend the Republican lunch on Tuesday afternoon that will offer a window into the GOP’s current whip count. McConnell met privately with Pence ahead of the lunch.

"Lot of good discussions underway,” Pence said as he arrived at the Capitol. “The American people know that Obamacare is failing, literally collapsing before our eyes. And the president and I are committed to doing everything in our power to … give to the American people the kind of health care that they deserve."

President Donald Trump floated the possibility on Monday that Congress and the White House would simply let Obamacare’s individual markets collapse if the GOP’s repeal effort goes down later this week.

But McConnell called up Trump recently, according to people with knowledge of the call, to deliver a reality check: If Obamacare repeal fails this week, the GOP will lose all leverage and be forced to work with Chuck Schumer and Democrats on a bipartisan plan to save failing insurance markets.

Amid the negotiations, McConnell found time to give a Capitol tour to visitors.
"Nothin’ else going on," he cracked.

Seung Min Kim, Josh Dawsey, Rachana Pradhan, Alex Guillen, Renuka Rayasam and Adam Cancryn contributed to this report.

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