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GOP health care efforts lack a clear path forward as Congress returns

July 7, 2017 at 6:35 PM EDT
Has a week off for the Fourth of July holiday helped or hurt Republicans' attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act? Lisa Desjardins joins John Yang to discuss where things stand as lawmakers return from recess next week, plus the message underlying comments made by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about the possibility that reform efforts will falter.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Aside from the many international issues before President Trump this week, his first major push on domestic policy is facing an uphill climb in the Senate.

John Yang has this checkup.

JOHN YANG: When last we left the saga of the Republicans’ attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t have the votes for the Senate bill, so lawmakers headed home for the Fourth of July recess.

Where do things stand as the recess ends?

Let’s turn to our own Lisa Desjardins.

So, Lisa, has this week off helped or hurt McConnell’s efforts to get this bill passed?

LISA DESJARDINS: It has not helped, and that has hurt.

We see some Republicans who are not usually in the middle of these situations, like John Hoeven of North Dakota, for example, meeting not just with constituents, but with hospital administrators, those kinds of people. And he came away with those meetings having, stressing problems with the bill.

Then, yesterday, Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, spoke to a rotary club in Kentucky. And he said this quote that got a lot of attention: “If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement, then some kind of action with regard to the private health insurance market must occur. No action is not an alternative.”

His office insists he said things like this before, but the timing is key. This was a bill that was supposed to be voted on already. John, leadership sources tell me they would still like a new revised bill next week, maybe a vote the following week. But that seems unclear now if it will really happen.

JOHN YANG: Seems like Mitch McConnell was sending a message. So, who are the key players that he was sending that message to?

LISA DESJARDINS: You got it exactly right.

We talked so much about moderates before. Now it’s all about the conservatives. He was saying to conservatives, we have to revise these bills, or we have lost our shot of having anything as Republicans.

Let’s compare two conservatives who spoke in town halls yesterday’s sound bites, first from Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

SEN. TED CRUZ, R-Texas: 2010, 2014, and 2016, repealing Obamacare was front and center. Now, I recognize that some folks may not agree with that, but the voters, repealing Obamacare was the single biggest factor producing a Republican House, a Republican Senate, and I think ultimately a Republican president.

LISA DESJARDINS: So, that’s an animated Ted Cruz. He is trying to change this revised bill to try and get it across the finish line.

But compare that with Kansas Senator Jerry Moran.

SEN. JERRY MORAN, R-Kan.: I believe in the legislative process that allows public debate, public discussions, testimony, amendments offered by all senators. The bill comes to the Senate floor, amendments offered by all senators, and figure out where there are 60 votes to pass something that is so important to so many Americans.

LISA DESJARDINS: How about that key number, 60 votes? That means Democrats would need to be to be involved. And that’s coming from a conservative.

JOHN YANG: So, what are the options? What can Mitch McConnell try to do to get the votes he needs to pass a bill in the Senate?

LISA DESJARDINS: There are no easy options left, but there are three options that seem to define the possible paths right now for Mr. McConnell.

The first is to revise the bill. That’s what we have been talking about. They do hope to offer a revised bill soon. But can it get enough votes? Unclear.

The second is a full repeal. That’s something Rand Paul and Ted Cruz want. However, with that full repeal would come a replacement later. And many of my sources in the Republican Party say that is too risky.

JOHN YANG: It’s also an option that the president raised last week.

LISA DESJARDINS: That’s correct. But this doesn’t seem to have the votes right now in the Senate.

Then the third option would be smaller fixes to the Affordable Care Act, something that stabilizes the market and fixes what people think are problems now. That would involve the Democrats as well.

JOHN YANG: That would keep ACA essentially as it this, just make little nicks and cuts around the edges.

LISA DESJARDINS: Potentially. It would be a much smaller bill at that point.

JOHN YANG: That’s what the Democrats want.

LISA DESJARDINS: That’s right.

JOHN YANG: So, as we sit here, with the Senate about to come back next week, what are the odds? What are the chances? What does your gut tell you about the chances of, A, the Senate passing something and, if that happens, B, getting something to the president’s desk for his signature?

LISA DESJARDINS: Well, I have the sense that almost no one knows exactly what’s going to happen now, but I would say, given that and given the way the Senate works, the odds are long, both on a bill passing the Senate and even longer on it getting to the president’s desk, as things stand right now.

JOHN YANG: But the odds are good you’re going to have a busy week next week, when the Senate comes back.

LISA DESJARDINS: I think so.

JOHN YANG: Thanks, Lisa.

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