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WASHINGTON — With the Senate set to return to work next week, pessimism is spreading among Republicans over their efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
North Carolina Senator Richard Burr told a local television news station Friday that he sees little hope of the Senate passing a health-care bill this year — comments that come just a week after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he doesn't yet see enough support to do so.
“I think it’s unlikely we will get a health care bill,” Burr told WXII 12 on Thursday, adding that the House-passed health care bill arrived to the Senate “dead on arrival.”
“It’s not a good plan,” he said of the House plan.
The House passed their bill last month and the Senate has since been working to revise it. But after weeks of meetings among a core group of 13 senators, no concrete path forward has been decided upon. Senators are far apart on a series of issues and time is running out, leading members to be skeptical of a chance of passage, according to multiple Senate aides.
"I don't know how we get to 50 (votes) at the moment. But that's the goal,” McConnell told Reuters in an interview last week.
Republicans need 50 Republicans to pass a health care bill in the Senate, meaning they can only lose two Republicans, a difficult task in a chamber with diverse views ranging from the moderate Maine Sen. Susan Collins who wants to protect Medicaid to conservative Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who wants the program trimmed down. In the event of a 50-50 tie in the Senate, Vice President Mike Pence would be the tie-breaking vote.
The Senate Budget Committee and Senate leadership aides have been meeting over the current recess to start the process of drafting a bill to ensure it meets strict parliamentary rules known as reconciliation that dictate spending levels and the content of the legislation, but no timeline has been given for any text of a bill or even a broad outline. And the thirteen-member group has no plans yet for a meeting this coming week when they return to Washington.
Time is running short for the Senate, however. Any health care bill must pass the Senate and again the House before October 1, when the budget reconciliation they are using for the bill so they only need 50 votes instead of 60, expires. Congress will be out of town for six weeks before October 1, leaving little time for legislative maneuvering.
With the reality that a comprehensive bill might not be possible, senators are more open to looking to a fix to help the current Obamacare system where insurers in some states have stopped providing coverage to people who purchase insurance outside of an employer.
“It's unlikely that we will get a health care deal, which means that most of my time has been spent trying to figure out solutions to Iowa losing all of its insurers, to Tennessee potentially losing theirs, to North Carolina having one insurer in 95 out of 100 counties,” Burr told WXII 12 News.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and chair of the Senate Health Education and Labor Committee, has been concerned about insurers exiting the market.
"We might have to do some things we normally wouldn't do in order to keep premiums as low as we can and to make sure Americans can buy insurance," Alexander told NBC News last week.