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Senate GOP promises to unveil health overhaul Thursday; votes expected next week

By Lisa Mascaro and Michael Memoli

Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - After months of secret negotiations, Senate Republicans are set to unveil their Obamacare overhaul Thursday, in hopes of voting next week before a holiday recess, leaders announced Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed complaints that Republicans were working behind closed doors as “laughable,” and insisted “everyone will have adequate time” to review what he called Thursday’s “discussion draft” before the vote.

Republicans could not estimate how many fewer Americans would have health care _ the House GOP’s bill left 23 million more uninsured _ but they promised a better system than the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“You’ll be able to take a look at it,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday.

“I wouldn’t want to compare it to the House bill,” McConnell said. “It’ll be different.”

The Republican leader can spare only two GOP votes from his slim 52-seat majority for passage, presuming Vice President Mike Pence would cast the tie-breaking vote. Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price both attended the Republican senators’ lunch Tuesday in a show of support.

Many GOP senators, however, remain skeptical of the party’s approach. Conservatives complain the emerging bill does not go far enough to gut Obamacare, while centrist-state senators worry that it too quickly yanks residents off Medicaid.

McConnell did not indicate he had the majority votes yet for passage.

“We’re going to make every effort to pass a bill that dramatically changes the current health care law,” he told reporters.

The White House could not yet say if President Donald Trump had seen the Senate bill. Trump reportedly dismissed the House-passed effort - which he celebrated last month in a Rose Garden ceremony - as “mean.”

“The president clearly wants a bill that has heart in it,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters.

The No. 3 Republican, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., told reporters that the Senate effort would likely postpone until 2023 its phase-out of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, which gave health coverage to 15 million more Americans.

Even if the Senate is able to muster the votes to approve a bill next week, the legislation would still need to be reconciled with the House-passed version _ pushing final passage to later in the summer.


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