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As Trump steams, Senate Republicans consider new repeal effort

Senate Republicans’ party-line attempts to repeal Obamacare aren’t dead just yet — at least not if President Donald Trump has anything to say about it.

Trump, increasingly impatient with the long-stalled repeal effort, met with three Senate Republicans about a new plan to roll back the health care law on Friday, signaling some lawmakers — as well as the president — are not ready to ditch their seven-year campaign promise.
The group is trying to write legislation that could get 50 Republican votes, according to multiple administration and Capitol Hill sources. The proposal from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) would block grant federal health care funding to the states and keep much of Obamacare’s tax regime. White House officials also met with House Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) to brainstorm how to make the idea palatable to conservatives, according to two sources familiar with the meeting.

The White House-health care huddle came just hours before Trump savaged Senate Republicans in a series of Saturday tweets for failing to repeal Obamacare. If the Senate doesn’t pass a bill soon, Trump warned, he may halt Obamacare payments subsidizing health plans for low-income individuals — an idea adamantly opposed by Republicans and Democrats alike.

Trump also appeared to take a personal shot at lawmakers, seemingly warning that he could revoke their own health benefits on the exchanges.

“If a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!” Trump tweeted Saturday afternoon.

Trump seemed optimistic about moving forward on the bill on Friday after the shocking setback this week appeared to cripple his legislative agenda, according to a White House official. Yet several senior Republican Senate aides and allies of GOP leaders cautioned against any feelings of momentum coming from the White House on Saturday, particularly after Trump again instructed Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to change the Senate rules to a simple majority and gut the legislative filibuster.
McConnell has resisted such a suggestion publicly and has been pushing back against Trump privately, according to people familiar with their interactions. One person close to McConnell said Trump has asked McConnell personally to change the rules but said no.

During his Saturday tweet-storm, Trump blamed the arcane budget reconciliation rules that make it more difficult to fully repeal and replace Obamacare on party lines.

“The very outdated filibuster rule must go. Budget reconciliation is killing R’s in Senate. Mitch M, go to 51 Votes NOW and WIN. IT’S TIME!” Trump said. “Republicans in the Senate will NEVER win if they don’t go to a 51 vote majority NOW. They look like fools and are just wasting time.”

Senate rules don’t appear to be the problem. From the “skinny repeal” bill to a McConnell designed replacement bill to a so-called “clean” repeal bill, all GOP efforts failed to get 50 votes in the Senate this week. After the GOP’s failure to move forward on Friday, McConnell asked Senate Democrats for their ideas on healthcare and warned against bailing out insurance companies. Some Republican senators want to move on from the partisan effort and start looking at fixes to the law’s insurance exchanges with Senate Democrats.

McConnell has vowed not to change Senate rules all year and has publicly encouraged Trump to cool it on the tweeting several times. His office reiterated his previous comments.

In theory, the Senate could bring back up their party line budget “reconciliation” effort to gut Obamacare as soon as next week. Graham’s bill has not been scored by the Congressional Budget Office and did not receive a test vote this week. It currently has a small group of supporters and will likely need major work to pass the Senate, like language defunding Planned Parenthood which would likely alienate a pair of moderate senators.

Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Dean Heller of Nevada joined Graham at the White House on Friday, and each has joined Graham’s bill as the new alternative plan for Republicans. The bill’s supporters are telling administration officials and congressional aides that the bill will score far better than previous efforts, which CBO analyses project would cause millions more uninsured people and short-term spikes in premiums.

“I had a great meeting with the President and know he remains fully committed to repealing and replacing Obamacare. President Trump was optimistic about the Graham-Cassidy-Heller proposal. I will continue to work with President Trump and his team to move the idea forward.,” Graham said late Friday.

The South Carolina senator has been talking to Meadows about the bill as a possible way forward that both chambers could accept. Several GOP governors have signaled interest to Graham for the bill as a way to keep funding levels steady and give states more control. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is also monitoring those conversations, a Republican aide said.
Meadows has shopped the Graham proposal around to other conservatives to get their take on the bill. He said Thursday that Graham’s bill would need to ease the ability of governors’ to get waivers to ignore some of Obamacare’s regulations.

“We’re going to regroup and stay focused,” Meadows said Friday. “I’m still optimistic that we will have another motion to proceed, and ultimately put something on the president’s desk.”

But the GOP would have to take another painful procedural vote to open debate, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is expected to remain in Arizona for cancer treatment until the end of the August recess. McCain voted to open debate on the Obamacare repeal effort, but voted against the GOP’s “skinny” bill that would gut the law’s individual mandate.

He called for McConnell to hit the reset button on Friday, although his political capital may have taken a hit for squashing Republicans’ seven-year political vow to gut Obamacare with his surprising vote.

“The vote last night presents the Senate with an opportunity to start fresh. It is now time to return to regular order with input from all of our members – Republicans and Democrats,” he said on Friday.

Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska would have to reverse course on opening debate on the bill for things to move forward in August without McCain. Republican senators are angry at Trump for calling Murkowski this week to rethink her opposition to the GOP’s effort, several Republican sources said.

The moderate Alaska senator told E&E News that the conversation on Tuesday with Trump was “not a very pleasant call.” Several Republicans said privately Trump’s heavy hand derailed any chance of getting Murkowski to support the “skinny” bill, which was meant as a way to send the GOP’s repeal efforts into conference with the House.

Vice President Mike Pence spent most of Friday’s vote whipping McCain, but a number of Republican senators tried to flip Murkowski as well. She was unmoved and voted no.

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