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Republicans scramble to revise faltering health care bill

3 min

Washington (AFP)

US Senate Republicans, facing potential collapse of their "Obamacare" repeal effort, were making last-gasp changes Thursday aimed at uniting different factions of President Donald Trump's party.

Legislative action on a health care overhaul was put on hold after it became clear that conservatives and moderates could not unite around the controversial legislation.

Since then, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his aides have been working behind closed doors to make adjustments that could free up billions more dollars to help low-income Americans -- and help attract the support of party moderates.

"We've made good progress, and we'll keep working," said McConnell, who has sought to seal a deal with his caucus on an updated version as early as Friday ahead of a one-week recess.

Negotiations appeared to hinge on the question of how much protection the bill should offer vulnerable Americans, versus how much tax relief should be given to the nation's wealthy.

One proposal gaining traction involved keeping the Affordable Care Act's 3.8 percent tax on net investment income, which could help boost subsidies to help lower-income Americans purchase health insurance.

"I don't think the sustainable proposition is to repeal a tax on the wealthy and pass a burden on to the poor," Republican Bob Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters.

"That's not an equation that works. That equation is being shifted now, and I think that's a very good thing."

The effort comes after Trump said the Obamacare repeal bill that passed the House of Representatives last month was "mean," and as several Senate Republicans expressed alarm about how McConnell's bill would dramatically lower federal contributions to Medicaid, the health program for the poor and the disabled.

Number three Senate Republican John Thune said several members showed "interest" in the investment tax issue.

"If it takes something like that to get our members on board to move this process forward, I think we have to consider that," he said.

But some conservatives are likely to balk if the taxes remain.

"I'm for repealing Obamacare, which includes all the taxes in Obamacare," said Senator Rand Paul, who opposed the Republican bill when it was released last week.

"Unless it changes to a repeal bill I can't vote for it."

McConnell postponed a vote this week when it became clear his bill was well short of success, as at least nine Republicans opposed the legislation.

A projection by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office forecast that under the Senate bill, the ranks of the uninsured would swell by some 22 million people by 2026 compared to current law.

Senate Republicans hold a 52-48 majority. With all Democrats united against the bill, Republicans can afford just two defections.

The Republican bill released last week eventually strips more than $700 billion from Medicaid, leading moderates to bristle at the potential cuts.

One tweak under consideration is a $45 billion infusion for opioid treatment, a development Senator Rob Portman of Ohio called "progress."

Several polls released this week showed broad opposition to the Senate bill.

Just 12 percent of Americans support the legislation, according to a USA Today/Suffolk University poll.

A Quinnipiac University poll put the approval rate at 16 percent.

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