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Senate Republicans Release New Version Of Health Care Bill


Senate Republicans are trying again to fulfill their promise of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. Party leaders released a revised version of their health care bill today. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hopes this time he'll have enough Republican votes to pass it. The updated version makes changes to appeal to both moderate and conservative holdouts.

NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis joins us now from Capitol Hill, where she's been talking to some of those senators. Hi, Sue.


SHAPIRO: What are the major changes in this version of the bill?

DAVIS: You know, it's important to remember that the core of this bill largely remains the same and to remind people this is a bill that repeals most of the mandates of the Affordable Care Act, including the individual mandate, rolls back many of the taxes and minimum coverage standards in the Affordable Care Act and dramatically remakes the Medicaid program. The changes that they outlined today are relatively minor but were seen as sort of necessary to get reluctant senators onboard. A couple of those things - they've included more money to combat the opioid epidemic. They've included a provision that would let people use their health savings accounts to pay for their premiums.

And one of the more notable things, Ari, is they are now deciding to keep in place some of those very Obamacare taxes that the Republican party opposed. They have realized that they will need some of that money to pay for the things that they want to do. And one of those ideas that is perhaps key to getting this over the finish line is a proposal by Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas that would essentially let insurance companies offer any plan they choose as long as they still offer one plan that is in - compliant with Obamacare mandates.

SHAPIRO: There are no Democrats in the Senate who support this bill. And the Republicans have only 52 senators, so they need 50 of them to support the bill. Where does the math stand now?

DAVIS: It's - you know, there's very little room for error right now. Two Republican senators have already come out as firm noes. Those two senators are Rand Paul of Kentucky and Susan Collins of Maine. They say they will not vote on what is considered a key procedural vote next week that lets the Senate just begin debating the bill. If one more Republican comes out and says they won't vote for that, this is over. I talked to Susan Collins today, and she said she thinks the best path forward is just to scuttle this whole bill and start talking to Democrats. This is what she had to say.

SUSAN COLLINS: I believe that the Democrats are going to be forced to come to the table despite the very conflicting signals that Senator Schumer has given and because I have had numerous Democrats say to me that they want to work on a bill.

DAVIS: Ari, it is not all bad news for Mitch McConnell. I also spoke to one of those previous holdouts today. That's Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. And he told reporters today he will vote on that procedural vote. And he is more inclined to vote for the bill than vote against it. This is what he said.

RON JOHNSON: So I'm going to just take a look at whatever that is. And if I really do think it puts us in a better spot tomorrow than we are today, my guess is I'll probably support it unless there's just something so awful in it that I can't.

SHAPIRO: OK, Sue, if he gets onboard, then who are the key senators that everyone is watching that are still left?

DAVIS: The senator that everyone's talking about today is Dean Heller. He's a Republican from Nevada. He came out hard against the previous version of the bill. His very popular governor, Brian Sandoval, is against the previous version of the bill as well. If he comes out as a no, he could down this whole thing.

Other two senators to watch - Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Leadership specifically put provisions in this bill to assist Alaska to try and get her onboard. She hasn't made her position known yet - and then Rob Portman of Ohio, a senator who - from a state where they took the Medicaid expansion, where he's been very hesitant to what the bill does to Medicaid.

SHAPIRO: What are the next steps in the Senate?

DAVIS: We expect the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has to weigh in on the economic impact of the bill. That's expected on Monday. And Mitch McConnell wants to have this vote. He reiterated today that his plan is to bring it to the floor late next week. And if it passes, health care debate will probably consume much of the rest of the month in the United States Senate.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Susan Davis, thank you.

DAVIS: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.