Senate Republicans on Tuesday delayed their plans to vote on repealing Obamacare this week amid strong resistance from moderate and conservative Republicans to even starting debate on the GOP bill.
Republicans plan to rewrite their health bill over the Fourth of July recess and get a new analysis from the Congressional Budget Office before bringing legislation to the floor, according to senators and aides. GOP senators said their goal is to have an agreement by Friday and vote as soon as they come back from the break.
“Legislation of this complexity almost always takes longer than anyone would hope,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters. “But we’re pressing on.”
McConnell said he opted to delay a planned vote on the Senate bill after several members asked for more time to review the sweeping legislation.
The Kentucky Republican added that President Donald Trump will play a larger role in the discussions, calling his involvement “very important” to securing the final commitments to push the bill through the Senate. Republican senators headed to the White House on Tuesday afternoon to meet with Trump.
Some Republicans commended McConnell for the delay.
“Sen. McConnell was wise to give it a few more days,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who chairs a key health committee. “Several members felt the bill wasn’t ready to be voted on. We’ve been working on it for seven years, and a few more days to get it right is a very sensible approach to me.”
Earlier in the day, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the GOP’s chief whip, had said the vote would be held “sometime tomorrow.”
But at least five Senate Republicans — moderate Sens. Susan Collins and Dean Heller and conservative Sens. Ron Johnson, Rand Paul and Mike Lee — had said they were not ready to vote on the Obamacare repeal bill without alterations. McConnell can afford to lose just two senators.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), one of the swing votes on the bill, said not voting on the procedural motion 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 had “serious concerns about the Medicaid and opioids issues.”
Both McConnell and Vice President Mike Pence met with reluctant Republicans on Tuesday as the GOP hunted for the votes together to fulfill their seven-year pledge to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
Republicans have some money to play with. The CBO score left the GOP with about $188 billion more revenue than they need, meaning they can put the savings in programs to shore up premium reduction efforts and anti-opioid spending or, as some conservative Republicans want, to reduce the deficit.
“We’ve been talking about Medicaid, seeing if we can get it right for the states,” Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado said of further changes to the bill.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida met with McConnell and Florida Gov. Rick Scott on 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 of Kentucky also met with Trump on Tuesday afternoon. Paul has been among the Republicans most resistant to the Senate’s repeal bill.
McConnell met privately with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas on Tuesday morning. Cruz had 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, 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 of Utah wouldn’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 attended the Republican lunch on Tuesday afternoon. McConnell met privately with Pence ahead of the lunch, and top White House aides Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer were also spotted in the Senate.
“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.”
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 failed, the GOP would 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.
Adam Cancryn, Seung Min Kim, Josh Dawsey, Rachana Pradhan, Alex Guillen and Renuka Rayasam contributed to this report.
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