Little movement on health care as GOP talk pivots to tax reform

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As Senators returned to work on Capitol Hill for the first time since last week’s defeat of a bare bones GOP bill to overhaul the Obama health law, there was no indication of an immediate attempt by Republicans to rush a new proposal forward for a vote, as party leaders and rank and file GOP lawmakers started talking more about a major push on tax reform later this year.

“I’m now moving on to tax,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), who like other Republicans expressed frustration with last week’s defeat on health care, but said that until one of three GOP Senators who voted against the health care bill is ready to switch their vote, it’s time to deal with other agenda items.

“This is an unacceptable outcome, I’m outraged by it,” said Perdue, “and we’ve got to keep pushing to see if we can get something done through committee.”

From Republicans of all stripes – that was a common theme – now is not the time to quit, even if the votes don’t seem to be there.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll have hearings,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH). “I think we should be working together, I think that’s a way to see if we can put the pieces back together on legislation that makes sense.”

“We can’t stop,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), who had refused comment in the immediate aftermath of the Friday vote, as he acknowledged to this reporter that he left the Senate floor after that vote in a very dejected state.

“There are a lot of people at home who are facing very high premiums, extremely high deductibles. They’re still expecting us to get something done,” the Oklahoma Republican said of the GOP health care effort.

Most of the activity on figuring out a way forward was coming from the House, where several dozen lawmakers from both parties were already talking about ways to cut a middle-of-the-road deal to come up with bipartisan ways to improve the health care situation.

“It’s time we come together to get things done for the American people,” said Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY).

As for the GOP effort to do a health care bill only with Republican votes, the situation did not seem promising on Monday, even as GOP Senators talked about how to come up with a new plan that could get 50 votes in the Senate.

Of the three Republicans who voted “No” on early Friday, none of them seemed to be ready to switch their vote in exchange for some slight tinkering with the GOP health plan:
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+ Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is not expected back until after Labor Day.

+ Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has made clear that she wants substantive changes.

+ Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) told reporters she wants a full review, not some quick amendments that are forced on GOP Senators with little time to review.

“The proposals and the process that we had engaged in was not the best way to do this significant reform effort,” Murkowski told reporters in the Capitol, after returning from a weekend in Alaska, where she said she received strong support for her “No” vote.

“I have been through more than my share of airports in the last 36 hours,” Murkowski told reporters, as she detailed a fishing trip where she caught about 50 pounds of King Salmon.

“The outpouring of support, and thanks – and tears,” Murkowski said, describing a similar airport scene of thanks to one that greeted Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) when she arrived in Bangor, Maine on Friday.

Murkowski spoke to a small group of reporters for seven minutes – one of my colleagues was shocked when he heard that, because the Alaska Republican so often avoided extended time with reporters in the run up to the health law vote.

But this time, she seemed completely at peace with her vote against the GOP ‘skinny’ bill.

Meanwhile, at the White House, officials weren’t giving up on the Senate just yet.

“We’re continuing to push forward, hopefully, with the repeal and replacement of Obamacare. We’ve never been shy about that, and we’re going to continue to do that,” said incoming Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

“I think he and I both want to get something done,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said of President Trump, after a phone call between the two on the health care issue.

But the problem for Republicans is a simple one of numbers right now – the GOP is short on votes in the Senate.

And while President Trump has demanded that Senators stick around deep into August to work out a deal, there was no sense in the hallways of the U.S. Capitol on Monday that such a deal was going to emerge.

Instead, White House officials were already talking about the next big legislative fight – one that could be even more difficult than health care.

For now though, other than bullet points, there is no tax bill.


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