Those top-secret and Republican-only Senate death panel meetings plotting Obamacare repeal aren't going so well, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell unexpectedly admits.
In an exclusive interview with Reuters, McConnell said healthcare and taxes still top the Republican legislative agenda, and he added he will not be reaching out to the minority Democrats on either one because differences between the two parties are too stark.
That approach will leave McConnell, a conservative 75-year-old Kentuckian with a reputation as a dealmaker, a narrow path to win passage of these ambitious goals, which are also at the head of Republican President Donald Trump's policy agenda.
Referring to behind-the-scenes work among Senate Republicans on a healthcare bill, McConnell said, "I don't know how we get to 50 (votes) at the moment. But that's the goal." […]
McConnell opened the interview by saying, "There's not a whole lot of news to be made on healthcare." He declined to provide any timetable for producing even a draft bill to show to rank-and-file Republican senators and gauge their support.
On the other hand, he said, prospects for passage of major tax legislation were "pretty good." While this too will be difficult, McConnell said, it is "not in my view quite as challenging as healthcare."
McConnell, who conducted the interview ahead of the CBO report on the House's Zombie Trumpcare bill, could simply be trying to tamp down expectations. But what he said is also undoubtedly true.
McConnell needs a bare minimum of 50 out of his conference of 52 senators. Vice President Mike Pence could again be relied upon for the tie-breaking vote. But there's anywhere between two and six (or more) Republicans who have a variety of problems with the stuff in the bill, as they should: it sucks and millions of their constituents will lose their health care.
But here's McConnell's problem if he wants to get his tax bill through right away—he has to either pass Trumpcare or shelve it. They want to use the same maneuver, budget reconciliation, for both bills so they don't have to worry about the Senate filibuster. So Republicans set it up to do repeal first, then tackle taxes in the reconciliation instructions they included in the budget resolution in January. There are ways around that, like getting rid of the filibuster in the Senate on legislation. But McConnell might not be ready to rock the boat that hard yet, particularly if he can't round up all of his senators to do the the one thing that they've been promising to do for seven years.