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Tuesday May 21st, 2019 7:48AM

Conservative GOP senator hits party leaders on health bill

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — In unusually harsh terms, a conservative Republican senator accused party leaders Monday of trying to rush the party's health care bill through the Senate in remarks that underscored the challenge they face in staunching a rebellion among GOP lawmakers.

"They're trying to jam this thing through. It is far from a perfect bill," Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt. Johnson called leadership's effort "a little offensive" and said conservatives had no input into the package.

Johnson was among four conservatives who announced Thursday that they opposed the measure, which would roll back much of President Barack Obama's health care law. It was unveiled earlier that day by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who drafted it behind closed doors after numerous meetings among GOP senators.

McConnell is hoping to begin debate on the legislation as early as Tuesday and push it through the chamber by week's end. He can win approval only if he limits Republican no votes to just two of the 52 GOP senators, since Democrats solidly oppose the bill.

Moderate Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., has also said he's against the proposal, and several others from both wings of the party have expressed qualms. Heller faces a competitive re-election race next year.

None of the dissident senators have ruled out supporting the legislation if McConnell changes it, and the leader is hoping to offer amendments to win support. But reshaping the bill in one direction risks alienating those from the opposite end.

In an opinion column in Monday's New York Times, Johnson wrote that McConnell's initial draft "doesn't appear to come close" to the goal of making coverage more affordable. He criticized the measure for increasing federal spending on subsidies for people buying coverage and not eliminating enough of Obama's regulations on insurers, including protections for consumers with pre-existing medical conditions.

Johnson has been among several GOP senators who say the vote should not occur this week. McConnell has wanted to hold the vote before the upcoming week-long July 4 recess, when party leaders worry that senators will face pressure to abandon the legislation.

In another important dynamic, lawmakers were awaiting a key analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office of the measure's price tag and the number of people who might lose coverage if it is enacted. The new report was expected as early as Monday.

The Senate legislation resembles a bill the House approved in May that the budget office said would result in 23 million additional Americans without coverage by 2026.

President Donald Trump continued his attacks on congressional Democrats on Twitter Monday, saying: "The Democrats have become nothing but OBSTRUCTIONISTS, they have no policies or ideas. All they do is delay and complain. They own ObamaCare!"

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Sunday that seven to eight additional senators were troubled by provisions in the Senate bill, which she said could cut Medicaid for the poor even more than the House version.

Collins, who also opposes proposed cuts to Planned Parenthood, said she was awaiting the CBO analysis before taking a final position. But she said it will be "extremely difficult" for the White House to be able to find a narrow path to attract both conservatives and moderates.

"It's hard for me to see the bill passing this week," Collins said.

In a broadcast interview, Trump did not indicate what types of changes to the Senate bill may be in store, but affirmed that he had described a House-passed bill as "mean."

Addressing reporters Sunday, the Senate's No. 2 Republican said passing a health care bill won't get any easier if Republican leaders delay a Senate vote on the GOP health care plan. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said there is "a sense of urgency" to push forward but acknowledged the outcome is "going to be close."

The legislation would phase out extra federal money that 31 states receive for expanding Medicaid to additional low-income earners. It would also slap annual spending caps on the overall Medicaid program, which since its inception in 1965 has provided states with unlimited money to cover eligible costs.

The other three GOP conservatives who say they're against the legislations are Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas. They say the bill doesn't go far enough if repealing Obama's 2010 statute.

Trump was interviewed by "Fox & Friends," while Collins appeared on ABC's "This Week."

___

Associated Press writer Steve Peoples in Colorado Springs, Colorado, contributed to this report.

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