Senate GOP leaders plan to vote as soon as this month on major healthcare legislation even though they remain uncertain, for now, whether their still-unwritten bill will pass, lawmakers said Monday.
The House narrowly passed its own version of legislation to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama's healthcare law last month. Senate Republicans have rejected the House bill but have struggled to come to agreement on a version of their own.
But now, with pressing budget deadlines looming and President Donald Trump eager to focus on tax legislation, Senate GOP leaders have decided it's time to vote and move on.
"We've been talking about this for seven years, so now is the time to start coming up with some tangible alternatives and building consensus," GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said Monday.
Cornyn and others said Senate Republicans would be presented with legislative options at a meeting Tuesday with the goal of making decisions on what is in and what's out of their bill. A sticking point remains how to unwind the Medicaid expansion in Obama's law, since some states expanded Medicaid and some did not, and there are Republican senators representing states that did both.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 Republican, said that ideally the Senate would vote this month, but certainly before scattering for Congress' annual August recess.
"The sooner we can do that the better and obviously it gives us time to work through whatever differences there are between our bill and the House bill," Thune said.
Republicans control the Senate 52-48 and will need 50 votes, plus Vice President Mike Pence, to pass their bill. That means they can only lose two lawmakers, a tall order given significant disagreements that persist over Medicaid and other issues, including money for Planned Parenthood.
But increasingly the expectation is that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will hold a vote, even if the outcome is that it fails, in order to be able to move on to other issues.
The major goal of the health legislation in the Senate and House has been to lower premiums and expand choices while getting rid of the mandates in "Obamacare" that require people to buy insurance. The House bill would cause 23 million people to lose insurance over a decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, an outcome that spooked senators. But the other option is spending more money which is also difficult for many to accept.
That's created a series of tough choices, and resulted in difficulty in drafting legislation that's acceptable to Republican senators from states with diverse needs.
In a briefing for reporters Monday, White House legislative director Marc Short said of the healthcare legislation: "What we're looking to do is get the job done."
"I think we recognize that this is a crisis that needs to be addressed," Short said, pointing to rising prices and shrinking choices for some consumers under the existing system.