- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2017

Republican senators fled Washington on Thursday without a clear resolution on health care, leaving them to face voters back home after having failed to make their own self-imposed deadline for repealing Obamacare.

Conservatives and moderates batted around ideas for changes to GOP leaders’ legislation, including $45 billion in new funds to combat the opioid epidemic, but hadn’t finalized a deal, with holdouts waiting for more sweeteners.

“I’m not there yet — I know that,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, one of the Republicans who had pushed for more anti-opioid funding.

GOP leaders had hoped for a vote this week but shelved those plans after realizing they were well short of the necessary votes. They then said they wanted to rework the bill and have an agreement done by Friday, with a vote in early July.

But finding a deal to woo enough holdouts without alienating others has proved elusive.

“I expect we will revisit the Better Care Act when we come back for the July work period,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said in a floor speech Thursday afternoon. “I remain hopeful and optimistic because doing nothing is not an option.”

Senators were weighing a proposal that would keep Obamacare’s 3.8 percent investment tax on wealthier individuals, which could free up $172 billion elsewhere to head off rising premiums or help people in danger of losing coverage.

But that idea has run into opposition from conservatives, who want to repeal as many of Obamacare’s taxes and regulations as possible.

“I expect that we’ll be repealing all of the taxes,” said Sen. Pat Toomey, of Pennsylvania.

Another idea being pushed by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, which has attracted support from conservatives, would allow insurers who sell Obamacare-compliant plans to also offer noncompliant plans that would be cheaper for consumers.

“There was a good conversation about that in terms of how to make it work,” said Sen. John Thune, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.

Still, moderates could balk at any proposal that risks increasing the number of plans on the marketplace that don’t provide coverage for pre-existing conditions or “essential” benefits under Obamacare, like maternity care.

The Congressional Budget Office also released an updated analysis of Republicans’ bill on Thursday that said Medicaid spending would drop by 35 percent over 20 years compared to its baseline budget.

That score could cause angst for moderates like Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, for whom continued Medicaid funding is important.

Democrats, who have said they will not help the GOP repeal Obamacare, quickly seized on the new score.

“The Senate version of Trumpcare is even worse than we thought,” said Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

Whatever the Senate passes also has to go back through the House, which passed its own Obamacare repeal bill earlier this year on a narrow 217-213 vote.

But members were unclear on whether there would be something to run by the scorekeepers before the end of the week.

Asked about getting a deal by Friday, Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming said: “Well, we’re not going to vote until we get back [in] from the Fourth of July recess.”

“I have no idea,” Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota said Thursday afternoon when asked if they would get something to the CBO on Friday. “We’re still working on it.”

But earlier in the day, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah had expressed confidence in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, calling him a “very good leader” who would move them in the “proper direction.”

“We’ll have to see. It’s never over ‘til it’s over,” Mr. Hatch said.

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