Republican senators threaten to bolt from Obamacare repeal effort

By Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As U.S. Senate Republican leaders feverishly tried to pass a slimmed-down Obamacare repeal, some senators threatened to bring the entire effort to a halt unless there were guarantees that the bill would be significantly changed during negotiations with the House of Representatives.

With the Senate digging in for what could be a rare all-night session to debate amendments to a Republican healthcare plan that would roll back parts of the seven-year-old Affordable Care Act, Republican senators challenged their leaders and expressed frustration with the entire process.

“I’d rather get of out of the way and have it collapse, than have a half-assed approach where it is now our problem,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

Graham was referring to a so-called skinny Republican healthcare bill that would repeal a few portions of the Obamacare healthcare law, formally known as the Affordable Care Act.

“The skinny bill as policy is a disaster,” Graham said at a news conference, adding, “The skinny bill as a replacement for Obamacare is a fraud.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is trying to get the bill passed so that the Senate and House could then engage in a “conference” to come up with a compromise bill.

Graham and other senators have proposals that they think would strengthen the healthcare bill, including by transferring some powers to the states.

They were withholding their support for the slimmed-down bill unless there are assurances from Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan that his chamber will not simply pass the Senate bill and send it to Republican President Donald Trump for enactment into law.

Earlier on Thursday, Ryan said he would await Senate action on a bill before making any decisions.

The jockeying contributed to an odd situation in which the Senate could be passing a bill while simultaneously begging the House to reject it in favor of something better – with no guarantees that something better can pass either Republican-led chamber down the road.

Some Republican House moderates, including Representative Chris Collins, a Trump ally, called for simply passing whatever bill the Senate approves in coming hours, saying a vote for final action on the lengthy Obamacare repeal effort should come by Saturday.

Republican House conservatives, however, pushed back against the idea.

House leaders, meanwhile, moved to give themselves the option of rushing a Senate-passed bill through their chamber by Tuesday.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Yasmeen Abutaleb, Doina Chiacu, David Morgan, Caroline Humer and Susan Heavey; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Frances Kerry and Jonathan Oatis)