WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leaders are plowing ahead with their goal to pass a GOP-only bill to repeal and replace Obamacare next week, but behind the scenes a bipartisan group of senators is discussing how to move forward if the bill fails.
“We’ve had great conversations — a lot of Democrats and Republicans,” Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., told reporters Wednesday. Carper said he’s been talking specifically with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and they have agreed on the need to draft a bill in public with opportunities for amendments and a full debate.
The current draft of the health care bill was written by Senate GOP leaders in closed-door sessions, and it has not gone through any committees, a process that rank-and-file members of both parties have criticized.
Carper said there appears to be a growing consensus for a bipartisan fix to the Affordable Care Act, as Republicans have struggled to garner enough support within their own ranks for the GOP repeal bill.
“I think the Republicans are getting an earful from the folks back home,” Carper said. “They understand … some of the flaws with what (they’re) coming up with.”
One such Republican is South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. He’s working on an amendment that he hopes will bring Democrats on board with the broader GOP leadership bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., plans to unveil an updated draft of the GOP leadership as early as Thursday.
McCain said Wednesday he was working with Graham on that effort, but the GOP pair were mostly mum on details.
Graham would only say they were trying to appeal to Democrats who would be open to creating health care solutions at the state level, rather than in Washington. “We’ve got to convince them that the money is generous, and we’re trying to direct money closer to the patient,” Graham said.
One Democrat in the bipartisan fray: Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a state President Trump won by 42 points. Manchin told reporters that Graham has approached him about working together and he agreed to discuss the issue.
But Manchin’s spokesman, Jonathan Kott, cautioned that Manchin wouldn’t compromise until Republicans give up the push to repeal former President Obama’s signature health care law. Most other Democrats have also set “repair, not repeal” as their starting point for any bipartisan negotiations.
“We are going to have to go through a process here in the next week or two where Republican senators abandon this effort,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., told USA TODAY. “We should be focused on the Affordable Care Act and what we need to do together to fix the pieces of it that haven’t worked — to stabilize it, to make it stronger and broader and more effective for Americans.”
Republican leaders’ goal is to have a vote on the legislation next week, but it’s not clear whether they will have enough GOP support to even start debate on the legislation. To proceed, 50 senators have to vote to bring up the bill.
McConnell delayed a vote on the first GOP draft last month when it became clear he did not have enough Republican “yes” votes to get the debate started.
Senate Republicans can only lose two votes and still pass the bill. Ten Republicans came out against the first GOP proposal, and a few others expressed concerns about it.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is among the holdouts, and she said it would take a lot of changes to move her into the “yes” column. “Based on what I’ve heard … it looks like the bill has largely been tweaked rather than overhauled. And I was hoping for an overhaul,” Collins told reporters Tuesday.
Democrats said failure of the GOP bill would pave the open the way for bipartisan reform.
“I think they see this process crashing down on top of them and they’re looking for a different way,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul — a conservative Republican currently against the bill because he feels it does not go far enough to repeal Obamacare — expressed doubts that he could find middle ground with Democrats.
“I have yet to meet a Democrat in Washington that will vote to cut a tax or will vote to eliminate a regulation,” Paul said on a call with reporters Wednesday. “If the Democrats were willing to work to pare back the regulations that have added cost to health insurance, yeah we’d work with them. There’s just no evidence that they’re interested.”
Contributing: Deirdre Shesgreen
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