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Republican Congressional Leaders Sound Ready To Move On From Health Care To Taxes

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is in the hot seat, as Senate Republicans appear to be on the precipice of yet another health care failure.

Updated at 12:15 am ET

Republicans in Congress sound as if they might be ready to move on from health care.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said from the Senate floor Tuesday that debate on a last-ditch effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act will continue.

"It's an important debate for our country," McConnell said, opening the Senate's day. "It's one that will certainly continue."

But it was notable that McConnell, who said last week that he intended to bring the health care bill up for a vote, did not commit to that Tuesday. He said nothing about whether or when there would be one on the Graham-Cassidy legislation.

The GOP bill would fundamentally overhaul Medicaid from an open-ended federal guarantee to a system that caps funds to the states but gives them more flexibility on how they spent those dollars. The legislation appeared to suffer a fatal blow Monday night when Sen. Susan Collins of Maine declared her opposition.

Collins is the third GOP senator to come out against the bill, in addition to Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and John McCain of Arizona. Republicans can only lose two senators for the bill to pass through the budget process of reconciliation, which allows for a majority vote instead of the 60-vote threshold ordinarily needed to end a filibuster.

McConnell tried to paint the debate over health care as one of this Graham-Cassidy bill versus a single-payer system. Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the bill's principal authors, has called it "federalism versus socialism." Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, as well as some Democrats, have touted a "Medicare for all" plan.

But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York took to the Senate floor Tuesday to knock that framing as a "straw man" and a "false choice."

"Democrats have a lot of ideas about how to improve health care," Schumer said. "Each of them endeavors to increase coverage, improve the quality of care, and lower the cost of care. None — none of the Republican plans manage to achieve those goals. That's the difference. The difference is one side wants to cut health care to average Americans, increase premiums, give the insurance companies far more freedom and one side wants to increase care, the number of people covered, lower premiums, better coverage. That's the divide."

Schumer also accused Republicans of not wanting to have that debate on the merits and called for "bipartisan way to improve the existing system."

On the other side of Capitol Hill, House Speaker Paul Ryan did not bring up health care during a news conference and instead focused on something else.

Ryan announced that House Republicans would be discussing Wednesday a "concrete framework for historic tax reform." He called it "a big moment for Americans."

President Trump indicated later Tuesday that he's asked members of Congress from both parties "to discuss our framework for tax cuts and tax reform before it will be released tomorrow. We will be releasing a very comprehensive, very detailed report tomorrow. And it will be a very, very powerful document."

The legislation, Ryan said, would try to create a "tax code built for growth" and "focused on helping American families" and businesses. "We are very, very excited," he said, adding, "It's high time we do this."

Trump said the plan will be based on four principles:

1. "Make our tax code simple and fair." (He promised Americans would be able to file their taxes on a "single page.")

2. "Cut taxes tremendously for the middle class, not just a little bit but tremendously." (Double the standard deduction and increasing the child tax credit.)

3. Lower business taxes.

4. "Bring back trillions of dollars in wealth parked overseas."

A comprehensive tax overhaul has not happened since 1986.

"Tomorrow is the beginning of a very important process that we are excited about here in Congress," Ryan said.

As far as health care goes, Ryan noted that the House had done its job by passing a bill in May.

Translation: It's time to move on.

If Republicans in the Senate do not pass the latest repeal effort, there is a question of what it could mean for McConnell. He and Trump have not been on the same page and do not appear to have a warm relationship.

Trump has called him out on Twitter previously for not passing health care, and there were reports of an intense, profanity-laced telephone call between the men.

Could another health care failure be the impetus for Trump to turn up the pressure once again on the Senate GOP leader?

NPR's Susan Davis contributed to this story.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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