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Senate Republicans Press Forward Despite Sharp Division On Health Care Bill


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said today that he is pushing back the Senate's August break by two weeks. It's one sign that Republicans are feeling pressure over their inability to pass a bill dismantling the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. Right now, they don't have the votes. So the White House and party leaders are continuing to push their fellow Republicans to make good on a campaign promise.

NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis joins us from Capitol Hill with the latest. Hi, Sue.


SHAPIRO: How big a deal is it to delay the August recess and what has the reaction been from senators?

DAVIS: It's certainly unusual. August is generally a busy time for senators in particular to take foreign trips abroad. And most of them like to spend that time back in their states. As you said, you know, it is a recognition of just how sensitive Republicans are feeling to criticism that we're halfway through the year with a new Republican majority in Congress, a Republican in the White House, and the party doesn't have much to show for it in terms of legislative victories.

Republicans I've talked to today have cheered the decision, particularly first-term senators. I talked to Louisiana's John Kennedy, and this is what he had to say about it.

JOHN KENNEDY: We have got to work longer and harder. I don't mean to step on anybody's toes. I know I'm new here and there are a lot of traditions and people have things to do back home. But we can't pass bills back home. We've got to be here.

DAVIS: The Senate will now stay in session through the first half of August. It remains to be seen, however, if more time is really what they need to solve the impasse on health care.

SHAPIRO: As of now, what is the status of this Republican health care bill?

DAVIS: Well, Senator Mitch McConnell today outlined the new timeline. He said we're going to see an updated draft of the bill on Thursday. And the updated score from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is expected early next week. That score will tell us how much the bill will cost and how many people it intends to cover.

And that would set up a key procedural vote by the latter part of next week. Now, this procedural vote is important 'cause it is this very vote that forced McConnell earlier this month to pull the bill from the floor because not enough Republicans said they would side with their own party to even begin debate on it. We don't know today if enough Republicans will be able to move forward on it next week.

The CBO score's going to be key to that. But there are ongoing negotiations to try and tweak the bill and thread that needle to get 50 of the chamber's 52 Republicans onboard.

SHAPIRO: What kinds of changes would you expect to see in this updated bill?

DAVIS: All of the talk today is about an amendment by Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz and Utah's Mike Lee. Their amendment to the bill would essentially let insurance companies sell any health insurance plan they would like to offer, as long as they also offer one plan that is compliant with all of the mandates outlined in Obamacare.

They see this as the compromise to the path forward. Notably, the White House supports this amendment. And Cruz told reporters today that he believes his amendment is the key to a deal. Here's what he told reporters.


TED CRUZ: I think the reason is that it is the necessary ingredient to getting the votes that we have to have to follow through on our commitment to repeal Obamacare. I believe we can get there. It remains challenging. More work remains to be done. But there is a path forward.

DAVIS: There's a huge amount of caution with this, obviously. Without a CBO score, not enough senators have said they will support it. And even without the CBO score, key senators like Susan Collins of Maine have already said the Cruz-Lee amendment is still not enough to get her on board.

SHAPIRO: And if the Senate cannot get enough support for an updated version of this bill, where does the health care debate go from here?

DAVIS: You know, if they want to pass legislation that would affect the individual market, it would mean that Republicans have to then turn to Democrats to get the votes. Some Republicans are already talking about that. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, told reporters today he's already talking to Democrats about a health care proposal that he could unveil as soon as this week.

He would not offer any details on it, try as we might. But it is certainly a recognition that there is still a deep sense of skepticism among Republicans that they're ultimately going to be able to pass a health care bill on Republican votes alone.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Susan Davis, thanks a lot.

DAVIS: You bet.

SHAPIRO: As the Senate continues its work repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, we want to help answer your questions about how it might affect you and your family. Email those questions to nprcrowdsource@npr.org and we'll answer some of them later this week. Again, that email address is nprcrowdsource@npr.org and please put health care in the subject line. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.