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Paul Ryan is willing keep Obamacare repeal negotiations with the Senate alive

But he’s leaving his options open.

Dylan Scott covers health care for Vox. He has reported on health policy for more than 10 years, writing for Governing magazine, Talking Points Memo and STAT before joining Vox in 2017.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday evening that the House was willing to enter Obamacare repeal negotiations with the Senate in an attempt to defuse a potentially explosive situation that threatens to derail the Senate health care debate.

“If moving forward requires a conference committee, that is something the House is willing to do,” he said in a statement.

As the upper chamber barrels toward passing a health care bill in the next few hours, Ryan also sought to put the pressure on the Senate, leaving open the possibility of eventually passing whatever comes out of the Senate as is.

“But the burden remains on the Senate to demonstrate that it is capable of passing something that keeps our promise, as the House has already done,” he continued. “Until the Senate can do that, we will never be able to develop a conference report that becomes law. We expect the Senate to act first on whatever the conference committee produces.”

It was yet another twist during another rollicking, borderline absurd day at the US Capitol. The Senate is mere hours away from voting on a health care bill that has still not been publicly released.

Some senators fear that the House would immediately pick up and pass the Senate’s mystery bill. They view their own bill, whatever it is, as merely a vehicle to start negotiations with the House.

Thursday evening, a few hours before Ryan’s statement, three Republican senators — Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John McCain of Arizona, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — said they would oppose the Senate bill without assurance from House leadership that the lower chamber would agree to enter those talks.

Ryan’s statement appears that it could keep the Senate bill, whatever it ends up being, alive for the time being if it satisfies the Graham-McCain-Johnson concerns.

On the other hand, a number of Republican senators, particularly Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), have said that they would actually prefer the House simply pass the Senate bill. It’s not clear how Ryan’s announcement might affect those votes on Friday morning.

If the Senate does enter into negotiations with the House, that promises to drag out the congressional health care debate for another month or longer. Deep Medicaid cuts — which the Senate’s “skinny” bill is not expected to include — could be back on the table.

In addition, health insurers are already complaining about the uncertainty created by Congress’s health care talks and the Trump administration’s threats to cut off key Obamacare subsidies paid to insurance companies. Prolonging the debate for could affect their decisions about whether to participate in the Obamacare marketplaces in 2018 — causing the Obamacare explosion that Trump forewarned.