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Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The top U.S. Senate Republican struggled on Wednesday to salvage major healthcare legislation sought by President Donald Trump, meeting privately with a parade of skeptical senators as critics within the party urged substantial changes.

Republican leaders hope to agree on changes to the legislation by Friday so lawmakers can take it up after next week’s Independence Day recess. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday abandoned plans to seek passage of it this week because Senate Republicans did not have 50 votes to pass the bill.

For seven years, Republicans have led a quest to undo the 2010 law known as Obamacare, Democratic former President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement. Trump made dismantling it a top campaign promise during last year’s presidential campaign but policy differences within the party have raised doubts Republicans can achieve a repeal.

Democrats have unified against the bill and Republicans control the Senate by a slim 52-48 margin, which means McConnell can afford to lose only two Republicans. So far at least 10 – including moderates and hard-line conservatives – have expressed opposition to the current bill, although some indicated they would vote for it with certain changes.

McConnell, with his reputation as a strategist on the line, met with a procession of Republican senators in his office on Wednesday. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said party leaders will talk to every Republican senator who has concerns about the bill or is undecided.

The House of Representatives passed its healthcare bill last month, only after striking a balance between the center of the party and the right wing. Now McConnell must find a similar sweet spot.

During a lunch meeting on Wednesday, Senate Republicans made presentations on potential fixes. Senator Rand Paul called for jettisoning more parts of Obamacare to get conservatives on board.

Senator Mike Rounds suggested keeping a 3.8 percent Obamacare tax on high earners’ investment income, which the current bill would eliminate. Rounds said the tax could pay for more Americans to receive the tax credits that help pay for health insurance.

Senator Bob Corker, who also supports keeping the tax, said one of the issues he was focused on was helping lower-income Americans pay for health plans.

“My sense is there’s a good chance that issue and other issues people are trying to get addressed can be addressed,” Corker told reporters.

Trump said the bill was moving along well and predicted a “great, great surprise” but did not elaborate.

Maine Senator Susan Collins, a moderate, said it would be “very difficult” to reach agreement by Friday. Collins and other centrists were put off by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s projection on Monday that 22 million people would lose medical insurance under the existing bill.

Finishing the legislation’s revisions by Friday would be “optimal,” Cornyn said, so the CBO can analyze the new version..

Even then, Democrats could mount a forceful resistance. They have repeatedly said they will not discuss a repeal but have expressed openness to negotiating improvements.

The Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, proposed Trump call all 100 senators to Blair House across the street from the White House to craft a bipartisan bill fixing Obamacare but Trump said did not think Schumer’s offer was serious.

McConnell said Democrats had refused “to work with us in a serious way to comprehensively address Obamacare’s failures in the seven years since they passed it.”

The legislation has triggered protests at the Capitol and police said they arrested 40 people, including cancer survivors, on Wednesday for blocking Senate offices.

Obama’s 2010 Affordable Care Act, which passed without Republican support, expanded health insurance coverage to some 20 million people but Senate Republicans call it a costly government intrusion.

The Senate bill rolls back Obamacare’s expansion of the Medicaid government insurance for the poor and cuts planned Medicaid spending starting in 2025. It also repeals most of Obamacare’s taxes, ends a penalty for not obtaining insurance and overhauls subsidies that help people buy insurance with tax credits.

For graphic on who’s covered under Medicaid, click: http://tmsnrt.rs/2u06kvB

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell, Steve Holland, Jeff Mason, Mohammad Zargham, Tim Ahmann and Jeff Mason; Writing by Lisa Lambert, Will Dunham and Frances Kerry; Editing by Bill Trott)

IMAGE: Women dressed as handmaids from the novel, film, and television series The Handmaid’s Tale demonstrate against cuts for Planned Parenthood in the Senate Republicans’ healthcare bill at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., June 27, 2017.  REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senate Republican leaders postponed a vote on a healthcare overhaul on Tuesday after resistance from members of their own party, and President Donald Trump summoned Republican senators to the White House to urge them to break the impasse.

The delay put the future of a longtime top Republican priority in doubt amid concerns about the Senate bill from both moderate and conservative Republicans. With Democrats united in their opposition, Republicans can afford to lose only two votes among their own ranks in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had been pushing for a vote ahead of the July 4 recess that starts at the end of the week. The legislation would repeal major elements of Obamacare and shrink the Medicaid government healthcare program for the poor.

“We’re going to press on,” McConnell said after announcing the delay, adding that leaders would keep working to make senators “comfortable” with the bill. “We’re optimistic we’re going to get to a result that is better than the status quo.”

At the White House meeting with most of the 52 Republican senators, Trump said it was vital to reach agreement on the Senate healthcare measure because Obamacare was “melting down.”

“So we’re going to talk and we’re going to see what we can do. We’re getting very close,” Trump told the senators. But he added, “If we don’t get it done, it’s just going to be something that we’re not going to like, and that’s okay.”

McConnell, whose party has a razor-thin majority in the 100-member Senate, told reporters that Republican leaders would work through the week to win over the 50 senators needed to pass the bill, with a vote planned after the recess. Vice President Mike Pence could provide the crucial vote needed to break a tie.

The Senate has delayed the vote on the controversial GOP led healthcare legislation. GOP leaders in the Senate did not have enough support for the bill to put it to a vote and have delayed voting on the measure until after the July 4th break. The decision to delay the vote came amid the growing concern about the current drafted Healthcare Bill and the impact it will have on millions of Americans who have access to coverage as well as sustaining medicaid. Senate Republicans can only loose two votes, in order for the bill to remain in play. So far six Republican senators came out publicly saying they could not support the health care draft bill as written.

“I think we can get 50 votes to yes by the end of the week,” Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) said after the White House meeting.

The House of Representatives last month passed its own version of a healthcare bill, but the Senate bill has been criticized from both the left and the right. Moderate Republicans worried millions of people would lose their insurance. Conservatives said the bill does not do enough to erase Obamacare.

The bill’s prospects were not helped by a Congressional Budget Office analysis on Monday saying it would cause 22 million Americans to lose insurance over the next decade, although it would reduce the federal deficit by $321 billion over that period.

The report prompted Senator Susan Collins, a Republican moderate, to say she could not support the bill as it stands. At least four conservative Republican senators said they were still opposed after the CBO analysis.

Three more Senate Republicans, Rob Portman of Ohio, Jerry Moran of Kansas and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, said after the delay was announced that they oppose the current draft.

Portman and Capito cited the bill’s Medicaid cutbacks and how that would hurt efforts to combat the opioid epidemic that has taken a heavy toll in their states. The Medicaid program was expanded under former President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law.

“I think giving time to digest is a good thing,” Republican Senator Bob Corker said after the delay was announced.

U.S. stock prices fell, as the decision to postpone the vote added to investor worries about Trump’s ability to deliver on his promises of tax reform and deregulation, as well as changes to the health sector. Those expected changes have driven a rally in U.S. stocks this year.

The benchmark S&P 500 index closed down 0.8 percent, and the Dow Jones industrial average finished down 98.9 percent.

“The market likes certainty and now there’s uncertainty. What is this going to look like when this gets out of the next iteration?” said Peter Costa, president of trading firm Empire Executions Inc.

Passing the measure would be a win for Trump as he seeks to shift attention after weeks of questions over Russia’s role in last year’s U.S. presidential election.

McConnell has promised since 2010 that Republicans, who view Obamacare as a costly government intrusion, would destroy the law “root and branch” if they controlled Congress and the White House. Republicans worry a failure to deliver will cost them votes in next year’s congressional elections.

If the Senate passes a healthcare bill, it will either have to be approved by the House or the two chambers would reconcile the differences in a conference committee. Otherwise, the House could pass a new version and send it back to the Senate.

Lawmakers are expected to leave town by Friday for their July 4 holiday break, which runs all next week. The Senate returns to work on July 10, the House on July 11. Lawmakers then have three weeks in session before their month-long August recess.

(Additional reporting by Yasmeen Abulateb, Amanda Becker, Eric Walsh, Susan Heavey and Tim Ahmann; Writing by John Whitesides and Frances Kerry; Editing by Leslie Adler)