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Scarce Progress in Hunt for Health Vote06/29 06:10

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell explored options 
for salvaging the battered Republican health care bill Wednesday but confronted 
an expanding chorus of GOP detractors, deepening the uncertainty over whether 
the party can resuscitate its bedrock promise to repeal President Barack 
Obama's overhaul.

   A day after McConnell, short of votes, unexpectedly abandoned plans to whisk 
the measure through his chamber this week, fresh GOP critics popped forward. 
Some senators emerged from a party lunch saying potential amendments were 
beyond cosmetic, with changes to Medicaid and Obama's consumer-friendly 
insurance coverage requirements among the items in play.

   "There's a whole raft of things that people are talking about, and some of 
it's trimming around the edges and some of it's more fundamental," said Sen. 
Bill Cassidy, R-La. "Right now, they're still kind of, 'Can we do it?' and I 
can't answer that."

   Yet while this week's retreat on a measure McConnell wrote behind closed 
doors dented his reputation as a consummate legislative seer, no one was 
counting him out.

   "Once in Glacier National Park I saw two porcupines making love," said Sen. 
Pat Roberts, R-Kan. "I'm assuming they produced smaller porcupines. They 
produced something. It has to be done carefully. That's what we're doing now."

   Having seen the House approve its health care package in May six weeks after 
an earlier version collapsed, Democrats were far from a victory dance.

   "I expect to see buyouts and bailouts, backroom deals and kickbacks to 
individual senators to try and buy their vote," said Senate Minority Leader 
Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "What I don't expect to see, yet, is a dramatic rethink 
of the core" of the bill.

   A day after McConnell prodded Republicans by saying a GOP failure would 
force him to negotiate with Schumer, the New Yorker set a price for such talks 
--- no Medicaid cuts or tax reductions for the wealthy. No negotiations seem 
imminent.

   Facing a daunting equation --- the bill loses if three of the 52 GOP 
senators oppose it --- the list of Republicans who've publicly complained about 
the legislation reached double digits, though many were expected to eventually 
relent. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said "of course" his support was uncertain 
because he wants to ease some of the measure's Medicaid cuts, and Sen. Ben 
Sasse, R-Neb., told The Omaha World-Herald that the bill was not a full repeal, 
adding, "Nebraskans are dissatisfied with it and so am I."

   McConnell, R-Ky., wants agreement by Friday on revisions so the Senate can 
approve it shortly after returning in mid-July from an Independence Day recess. 
Several senators scoffed at that timetable, with McCain saying, "Pigs could 
fly."

   At the White House, Trump continued his peculiar pattern of interspersing 
encouragement to GOP senators trying to tear down Obama's 2010 statute with 
more elusive remarks.

   Trump told reporters that Republicans have "a great health care package" but 
said there would be "a great, great surprise," a comment that went without 
explanation. On Tuesday, he said it would be "great if we get it done" but "OK" 
if they don't, and two weeks ago he slammed as "mean" the House version of the 
bill that he'd previously lionized with a Rose Garden ceremony.

   The GOP's health care slog has highlighted discord between moderates who say 
the bill cuts Medicaid and federal health care subsidies too deeply, and 
conservatives eager to reduce government spending and shrink premiums by 
letting insurers sell policies with scantier coverage than Obama's law allows.

   GOP support for the measure sagged this week after a report by the 
nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that it would produce 22 
million fewer insured people by 2026 while making coverage less affordable for 
many, especially older and poorer Americans. It wasn't helped when an NPR/PBS 
NewsHour/Marist Poll said that 17 percent of people approved of the Senate bill.

   McConnell showed no signs of abandoning his push for the legislation.

   "We'll continue working so we can bring legislation to the floor for debate 
and ultimately a vote," he said as the Senate convened Wednesday.

   To succeed, McConnell must balance demands from his party's two wings. It's 
a challenge that's intricate but not impossible, with some saying an eventual 
compromise could include elements both want.

   Centrists from states that expanded Medicaid health insurance for the poor 
under Obama's law are battling to ease the bill's cutoff of that expansion, and 
to make the measure's federal subsidies more generous for people losing 
Medicaid coverage. These senators, including Ohio's Rob Portman and West 
Virginia's Shelley Moore Capito, also want expanded funds to ease the death 
toll from the illegal use of drugs like opioids.

   Conservatives including Ted Cruz of Texas, Utah's Mike Lee and Kentucky's 
Rand Paul want to let insurers sell policies with fewer benefits. Some would 
further trim Medicaid spending and the health care tax credits, with Paul 
seeking to erase the package's billions to help insurers contain costs for 
lower-earning customers and protect the companies against potential losses.

   Each group has been trying to grow its numbers to boost clout with McConnell.

   ___

   AP reporters Stephen Ohlemacher, Kenneth Thomas and Kevin Freking 
contributed to this report.


(KA)

 
 
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