Trump scrambles for GOP health votes; budget score looms

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans skeptical about a GOP health overhaul bill are expressing some doubt about holding a vote this week as they await a key analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. President Donald Trump, making a final push to fulfill a key campaign promise, insists Republicans are not “that far off” and signaled last-minute changes are coming to win votes.

“We have a very good plan,” Trump said in an interview aired Sunday. Referring to Republican senators opposed to the bill, he added: “They want to get some points, I think they’ll get some points.”

So far, five Republican senators are expressing opposition to the Senate GOP plan that would scuttle much of former President Barack Obama’s health law. That’s more than enough to torpedo the measure developed in private by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and deliver a bitter defeat for the president.

The holdouts are expressing willingness to negotiate, but many of them are pushing revisions that could risk alienating moderate Republicans in the process.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said seven to eight additional senators including herself were troubled by provisions in the Senate bill that she believes could cut Medicaid for the poor even more than the House version. Collins, who also opposes proposed cuts to Planned Parenthood, said she was awaiting the CBO analysis before taking a final position. But she said it will be “extremely difficult” for the White House to be able to find a narrow path to attract both conservatives and moderates.

The CBO cost estimate, including an analysis on the number of people likely to be covered, is expected to be released as early as Monday.

“It’s hard for me to see the bill passing this week,” Collins said.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., one of the five senators opposing the bill, said he also wants to review the CBO score.

“I would like to delay,” he said. “These bills aren’t going to fix the problem. They’re not addressing the root cause,” he said, referring to rising health care costs. “They’re doing the same old Washington thing, throwing more money at the problem.”

In the broadcast interview, Trump did not indicate what types of changes to the Senate bill may be in store, but affirmed that he had described a House-passed bill as “mean.”

“I want to see a bill with heart,” he said, confirming a switch from his laudatory statements about the House bill at a Rose Garden ceremony with House GOP leaders last month. “Health care’s a very complicated subject from the standpoint that you move it this way, and this group doesn’t like it.”

“And honestly, nobody can be totally happy,” Trump said.

McConnell has said he’s willing to make changes to win support, and in the week ahead, plenty of backroom bargaining is expected. He is seeking to push a final package through the Senate before the July 4 recess.

Addressing reporters Sunday, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican said passing a health care bill won’t get any easier if Republican leaders delay a Senate vote on the GOP health care plan. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said there is “a sense of urgency” to push forward but acknowledged the outcome is “going to be close.”

He told reporters at a private gathering hosted by the libertarian Koch brothers in Colorado that Trump will be “important” in securing the final votes.

“We’re trying to hold him back a little bit,” Cornyn said with a smile.

The Senate bill resembles legislation the House approved last month. A CBO analysis of the House measure predicts an additional 23 million people over the next decade would have no health care coverage, and recent polling shows only around 1 in 4 Americans views the House bill favorably.

The legislation would phase out extra federal money that more than 30 states receive for expanding Medicaid to additional low-income earners. It would also slap annual spending caps on the overall Medicaid program, which since its inception in 1965 has provided states with unlimited money to cover eligible costs.

Conservative Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he is opposing the Senate bill because it “is not anywhere close to repeal” of the Affordable Care Act. He says the bill offers too many tax credits that help poorer people to buy insurance.

“If we get to impasse, if we go to a bill that is more repeal and less big government programs, yes, I’ll consider partial repeal,” he said. “I’m not voting for something that looks just like Obamacare.”

Trump said he thinks Republicans in the Senate are doing the best they can to push through the bill.

“I don’t think they’re that far off. Famous last words, right? But I think they’re going to get there,” Trump said of Republican Senate leaders. “We don’t have too much of a choice, because the alternative is the dead carcass of Obamacare.”

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Democrats have been clear they will cooperate with Republicans if they agree to drop a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and instead work to improve it. Still, Schumer acknowledged it was too close to call as to whether Republicans could muster enough support on their own to pass the bill.

He said they had “at best, a 50-50 chance.”

Trump was interviewed by “Fox & Friends,” while Collins, Schumer and Paul appeared on ABC’s “This Week.” Johnson spoke on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

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