WASHINGTON -- A breakaway group of five moderate Senate Republicans pushed Monday to delay a bill repealing Obamacare until March -- potentially enough pressure to force the party's leadership to comply.
The step is the latest sign of some Republicans' growing uneasiness about their leadership's plan to repeal the law with no consensus on a replacement as part of an effort to deliver swiftly on one of President-elect Donald Trump's top campaign promises.
Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee, Rob Portman of Ohio, Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska offered an amendment Monday to the budget resolution that would extend the target date for the committees to write an Obamacare repeal bill to March 3 from Jan. 27.
"As President-elect Trump has stated, repeal and replace should take place simultaneously, and this amendment will give the incoming administration more time to outline its priorities," Corker said in a statement. "By extending the deadline for budget reconciliation instructions until March, Congress and the incoming administration will each have additional time to get the policy right."
With Democrats opposed to a straight repeal bill, Republicans can lose no more than one backer if they want to fast-track their approach before Trump takes office. Republican leaders in the Senate are hoping to adopt the budget resolution -- which would allow an Obamacare repeal bill to pass with 50 votes and escape a Senate filibuster -- early Thursday after a marathon session of amendment votes.
More broadly, the amendment reflects the deep divisions, which persist nearly seven years into Republicans' promises to repeal and replace Obamacare, within the party on what kind of system to set up. Views range from a minimalist approach -- favored by the most conservative members -- that lets the market work its will, to a substantial, but scaled-back government role that maintains significant parts of the law, such as financial assistance to cover low-income people under Medicaid.
On the House side, the new chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus said his group wants to see more details about an Obamacare replacement before voting on the budget resolution.
"We hope they would see the prudence of waiting," Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina said Monday night.
Interviews with many Republicans indicate that the party is no closer to consensus two months after an election that gave them unified control of the White House and Congress.
Even before the new amendment was offered, Cassidy, Collins and other senators pushed to delay any repeal of Obamacare tax increases so that there would be revenue to pay for a replacement plan. This puts them at odds with House conservatives, who have been demanding a full, immediate repeal.