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Senate Republicans not ready to give up on Obamacare repeal

Obama's Supreme Court Nomination Sets Up Tense Battle In Congress Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images

The American Health Care Act, the Republican bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, suffered a quick and decisive defeat last week, pulled from the House floor before a vote because it couldn’t get enough support to pass. But some members of Congress are already hinting they want to try again.

House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters Tuesday that repeal efforts would continue on the Hill. Across the Capitol, many Republican senators appeared undeterred by the House bill’s failure. One suggested the Senate might draft its own bill to accomplish what House Republicans couldn’t.

“I think the Senate is going to have to move out on that,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said when asked about the next steps on health care. “I’d love to see the House do a vote on it, because they feel very deeply. We may have to move out ourselves if they don’t.”

“I think the main area of consensus is that Obamacare sucks and we can do better,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) put it succinctly.

Republicans in Congress voted dozens of times to repeal Obamacare while President Barack Obama was in office. Replacing the health law was a centerpiece campaign item for many Republicans in 2016. So it makes sense that legislators want to continue to pursue negotiations on a new plan that could gain enough support to move through Congress.

Still, how exactly Republicans “do better” is a big unknown. Republicans have not offered up what a new plan to replace Obamacare would look like, or how it would be different from the now-failed American Health Care Act. A path toward passing a replacement bill is incredibly hard to see. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, rather than promise a replacement path, suggested the Senate might wait and see.

“We're going to have to see how this works out” he said of the Affordable Care Act. “I don't think it will work out all that well.”

“I think the main area of consensus is that Obamacare sucks”

Republican legislators seem to agree on two things right now: They don’t like Obamacare and they would like to replace it.

“Obviously we're going to have to do something because our health care system is like Thelma and Louise,” says Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS). “They drove it off the cliff and we need to stop that car.”

“I'm continuing to work with Republicans to see if we can come to some agreement,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN). “I hear some encouraging sounds from the House and talked to my Republicans here. If any Democrats want to make a bipartisan solution I welcome that, too.”

But the big question is still the same as before the American Health Care Act: What plan would Republicans stand up in Obamacare’s place?

Speaker Paul Ryan’s answer, the American Health Care Act, would have significantly scaled back Obamacare’s insurance expansion and left 24 million Americans without coverage. But the bill — which one poll found had just a 17 percent approval rating among the American public — pleased almost no one.

The right-wing Freedom Caucus rejected the bill because they felt it didn’t do enough to dismantle Obamacare insurance regulations. More moderate Republicans, meanwhile, said they would vote against the bill because it would leave too many people uninsured in their district.

There is not currently a policy proposal circulating that would do anything to satisfy those two groups. Instead, what you’re seeing now is a lot of talk about reviving the repeal effort without much substance behind it.

Another big unknown is what role the White House might play in this new push for a replacement bill. The New York Times reported Tuesday that White House strategist Steve Bannon has been hosting talks with Republican legislators who opposed the last bill.

Hours later, at the White House press briefing, press secretary Sean Spicer tried to tamp down on the idea they were pursuing a particular bill or strategy.

"Have we had some discussions and listened to ideas? Yes,” he said. “Are we actively planning an immediate strategy? Not at this time.”