Senate plans vote on ‘skinny’ healthcare bill in marathon session – Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Thursday he was willing to help Senate Republicans advance a chaotic effort to dismantle Obamacare by committing to House-Senate negotiation, while senators debated a pared-down repeal bill to get them to that point.

The reassurances from Ryan presented the possibility that Senate Republicans in the wee hours of Friday may approve a bill that they do not want to become law – only so they can keep their effort alive and develop a different bill with the House.

Ryan’s comments came shortly after three Senate Republicans threatened to oppose a so-called “skinny repeal” of Obamacare if they did not get assurances that it would not become law.

Without committing to specifics, Ryan said his Republican-controlled chamber would consent to a conference negotiation, but stopped short of promising major changes and insisted that the Senate take the first steps on any new bill.

“If moving forward requires a conference committee, that is something the House is willing to do,” Ryan said in a statement. “But the burden remains on the Senate to demonstrate that it is capable of passing something.”

Despite controlling the Senate, the House of Representatives and the White House, Republicans have struggled for months with repealing Obamacare, a complex law approved by Democrats in 2010 under former President Barack Obama that provided health insurance to millions of previously uninsured Americans.

Republicans attacked the law for seven years but have yet to agree on a replacement plan of their own. No legislation and little guidance have been offered on the matter by President Donald Trump, although he has berated the Senate for its inaction.

After two major defeats in the Senate for Republican legislation earlier this week, the skinny repeal represented a last-ditch effort by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to keep the repeal effort alive. The skinny bill would repeal only a few portions of Obama’s signature law, formally known as the Affordable Care Act, or ACA.

Seeking Assurances

As the Senate dug in for what promised to be a rare all-night session to debate amendments, Republican Senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Ron Johnson called on Ryan for assurances that approval would send the bill to a House-Senate conference that could lead to substantial improvements.

“I’d rather get out of the way and have it (Obamacare)collapse than have a half-assed approach where it is now our problem,” Graham told reporters.

“The skinny bill as policy is a disaster,” he said. “The skinny bill as a replacement for Obamacare is a fraud.”

Republican Senator Ted Cruz told reporters earlier on Thursday that he also wants assurances that the bill would go to a House-Senate conference for improvement.

“There are a number of senators who would very much like to have assurances from the House to that effect,” he said.

Graham, Cruz and other senators have proposals that they think would strengthen the Republican healthcare bill, including transferring some powers to the states.

Before Ryan issued his statement, House Republican leaders were preparing for a Friday vote on a rule that would allow them to push a Senate-passed bill through their chamber by Tuesday.

“The so-called skinny bill represents an opportunity,” Republican Senator Lamar Alexander said in a Capitol hallway. “It doesn’t solve the problems with the Affordable Care Act. It does solve the problem of how we get to a place where we can solve those problems, which is a conference with the House.”

Additional reporting by Yasmeen Abutaleb, Doina Chiacu, David Morgan, Susan Heavey, with Caroline Humer in New York; Writing by David Morgan and Will Dunham; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Peter Cooney and Bill Trott

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