Senate Republicans will head into the July 4 recess without having repealed ObamaCare after deciding on Tuesday to delay the legislation when it became clear it lacked the votes for passage.
The decision sets up a situation Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had long sought to avoid: a recess where his members will take hits over the healthcare fight and a July that might now be taken up by the healthcare debate.
The GOP leader put on a brave face after an emergency meeting at the White House with President Trump and his conference, telling reporters that his members just needed a little bit more time.
“We made good progress,” he told reporters after the roughly hourlong meeting in the East Room.
“Everyone around the table is interested in getting to yes — is interested in getting an outcome,” he said. “Because we know the status quo is simply unacceptable, unsustainable and no action is just not an option.”
The optimistic tone belies skepticism within McConnell’s conference over whether a bill can win 50 Republican votes in the Senate.
Every move toward a centrist Republican risks losing a conservative, while concessions to the right could turn moderates away from the bill.
Three more Republicans — Sens. Rob Portman (Ohio), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) and Jerry Moran (Kan.) — said they opposed the current bill after the decision to delay it.
Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), another GOP no vote, said she wasn’t sure the measure could be changed to win her over.
She said she has “so many fundamental problems with the bill that have been confirmed by the [Congressional Budget Office] report that it’s difficult for me to see how any tinkering is going to satisfy my fundamental and deep concerns about the impact of the bill.”
Multiple senators and aides said leadership wasn’t really negotiating with them this week. They said they hoped the extra time would leave room for compromise.
“I think most people are acceptant that this is a very difficult, complicated undertaking, and willing to, you know, allow time particularly for some of our colleagues who feel they need more time,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the chamber’s No. 3 Republican.
Trump has been pushing for a win on healthcare but sounded a conciliatory note at the opening of the White House meeting.
“I think the Senate bill is going to be great,” he said. “This will be great if we get it done, and if we don’t get it done, it’s just going to be something that we’re not going to like and that’s OK and I understand that very well.”
After the meeting, Thune said his impression was that Trump “really wants us to get a deal.”
“I think he’s just very open to us finding — to take care of the people who are concerned about the changes to Medicaid and how we might be able to soften those, and then the conservatives that are interested in market reforms,” Thune said.
Portman, Capito and Collins are worried about the legislation’s cuts to Medicaid and how it might affect the opioid epidemic. Many people with opioid addiction now get healthcare through Medicaid.
A Congressional Budget Office analysis released Monday struck a blow against the Senate bill’s chances when it found that 22 million more people would be without insurance by 2026 under the Senate bill when compared to current law.
Capito and Portman had proposed a $45 billion fund for the opioid crisis to be spent over a decade. But the money included in the healthcare bill fell far short of this: just $2 billion for fiscal 2018.