WASHINGTON — Republicans threatening to hold up Senate health legislation because of a dispute with the House expressed dissatisfaction late Thursday with an effort by Speaker Paul Ryan to resolve the standoff.
Their statements delivered a blow to GOP leaders’ hopes for pushing an initial measure through the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, was hoping to push a narrow bill through the Senate peeling back pieces of former President Barack Obama’s health care law. Several GOP senators said they were willing to vote for it, but only with a promise that the House would not approve the narrow bill and send it to President Donald Trump for his signature.
Instead, they are demanding House-Senate talks on a wider-ranging measure.
Ryan, R-Wisconsin, sent senators a statement saying that if “moving forward” requires talks with the Senate, the House would be “willing” to do so.
But shortly afterward, his words received a less than enthusiastic review from the three GOP senators who’d insisted on a promise from Ryan.
“Not sufficient,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who returned to the Capitol Tuesday to provide a pivotal vote that allowed the Senate to begin debating the health care bill. He’d been at home trying to decide on treatment options for brain cancer.
“Not yet,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., when asked if he was ready to vote for the scaled-back Senate bill.
“Let’s see how everything turns out here, guys,” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, told reporters.
The convoluted developments played out as a divided Senate debated legislation to repeal and replace Obama’s Affordable Care Act. With Democrats unanimously opposed, the slender 52-48 GOP majority was divided among itself over what it could agree to.
After a comprehensive bill failed on the Senate floor, and a straight-up repeal failed too, McConnell and his top lieutenants turned toward a lowest-common-denominator solution known as “skinny repeal.” It would package repeal of a few of the most unpopular pieces of the 2010 law, along with a few other measures, with the goal of getting something, anything, out of the Senate.
That would be the ticket to negotiations with the House, which passed its own legislation in May.
But that plan caused consternation among GOP senators after rumors began to surface that the House might just pass the “skinny bill,” call it a day and move on to other issues like tax reform after frittering away the first six months of Trump’s presidency on unsuccessful efforts over health care.