Senate Republicans to release healthcare bill Thursday

U.S. Senate Republicans will release the text of their draft healthcare bill on Thursday and the legislation will likely move to the Senate floor next week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday.

"We're going to lay out a discussion draft Thursday morning," McConnell told reporters after a lunch with his fellow Republican senators.

The bill will be brought to the Senate floor once the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has assessed its cost and impact, "likely next week," McConnell added.

Senate Republicans have been working for weeks behind closed doors on legislation aimed at repealing and replacing major portions of the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law also known as Obamacare. The House of Representatives, which also has a Republican majority, passed such a bill last month, and Republican President Donald Trump has urged the Senate to act.

But Trump also encouraged the Senate to pass a more "generous" bill than the House, whose version he privately called "mean," according to congressional sources.

An estimated 23 million people could lose their healthcare under the House plan, according to the CBO. McConnell said Tuesday the Senate healthcare bill would be different from the House version, but he did not elaborate.

Earlier on Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence said new healthcare legislation would be enacted this summer.

"I want to assure you, before this summer is over ... President Donald Trump and this Congress will keep their promise to the American people, and we will repeal and replace Obamacare," Pence said in a speech to a meeting of National Association of Manufacturers.

There were signs Republicans were pushing to finish healthcare to clear the decks for a coming tax reform bill. Trump's top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, said on Tuesday that the White House and congressional Republicans were working to get a tax reform bill to the floor of Congress during the first two weeks of September.

Given the opposition of all Senate Democrats to repealing Obamacare, McConnell will need to win the support of at least 50 of the chamber's 52 Republicans to ensure passage. It was unclear whether he could do this given the differences between Republican moderates and conservatives.

"Hopefully we'll have 50 votes when that time comes," said Senator John Thune, a member of the chamber's Republican leadership.

Thune said the Senate healthcare bill was not yet finalized, saying "we're trying to get definitive determinations" on a range of issues. One question was how long to phase out the expansion of Medicaid that happened under Obamacare; Thune suggested this would end in the year 2023, three years after the House bill, but cautioned "we'll see."

Conservative Republican Senator Ted Cruz, told reporters the Senate healthcare bill does not yet do enough to lower health insurance premiums. Many other Republicans were saying they still had not seen detailed legislation.

Since Obamacare became law in 2010, Republicans have campaigned on repealing the program, which extended insurance coverage to millions of additional Americans through both subsidized private insurance and an expansion of Medicaid.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Tom Brown)

Jun 20, 2017

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