Senate back at work with no obvious path to GOP health care deal

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President Trump turned up the heat on Republican Senators this weekend, using Twitter to voice his frustration and displeasure at the failure of the GOP to get a bill through the Senate that overhauls the Obama health law, but at this point there is no obvious magic formula to solve what Republicans have called a “Rubik’s Cube” on health care reform.

Here’s the latest from Capitol Hill on the health care debate:

1. No path forward on health care at this point. The U.S. Senate was supposed to be gone from Washington, D.C. this week, but while the House has left until after Labor Day, the Senate will work this week and next week – whether they make any headway on health care is an open question. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has gone home to seek treatment for brain cancer, leaving only two other GOP Senators that could flip their votes on health care – Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Judging from the press clips out of Maine and Alaska, neither one seems to be in any hurry to embrace and support Republican health care plans. In fact, Collins got a standing ovation in the Bangor, Maine airport as she arrived back in the state after voting against the GOP health bill.

2. President Trump pushing, pushing, pushing the Senate. If you tuned out of politics this weekend, you missed a bunch of tweets from the President where he took the Senate to task, imploring Republicans to keep trying on health care, and demanding that the Senate change the rules to get rid of the filibuster (though that had nothing to do with the defeat of the GOP “skinny” health care bill on Friday). Is this the start of a new offensive by the President against his own party? Again – there are only three GOP Senators who defied the President: McCain, Collins and Murkowski. You can turn up the heat on them, or you can turn up the heat on GOP leaders and demand they change the rules, something that Republicans don’t have a majority of votes to do, either.

3. The Senate can certainly revisit the health care bill. After the health care vote debacle early Friday morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell placed the House-passed health care bill back on the calendar, which means he can move to bring the bill back up for debate at any time. That means if the GOP suddenly comes up with an idea that lights up the Senate side of the Capitol, they can swiftly move back to the measure. But will that happen in the next two weeks? There are already Senators meeting on ways to figure out some new way forward.

4. What’s on the Senate schedule this week? The Senate will start the week by voting to shut off debate on a federal appeals court nomination from President Trump. After that, the schedule remains unclear. The Majority Leader tried to get an agreement at 2 am on Friday to bring up a major defense policy bill, but Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) objected. That ‘defense authorization’ measure could still be the most likely major item to be considered by the Senate. The other unknown at this point – how much fury will come from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue if the Senate tries to work the next two weeks and then goes home until Labor Day?

5. House GOP leaders switching gears to tax reform. While the Senate remains bogged down over health care, GOP leaders in the House have clearly decided to expend their energy on laying the groundwork for tax reform. House Speaker Paul Ryan has made that his focus in recent days, and his press staff has been pushing that story as well (see tweet below). But this reporter will again remind everyone that if you want to do tax reform under the rules of budget reconciliation (to avoid a filibuster), then you have to approve a budget resolution to do that – and so far, that has not been voted on by either the House or Senate. And we are not expected to even have the details of a tax reform bill until after Labor Day.


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