WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, having lunch with senators in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Tuesday, suggested more money might be needed to make health care reform “generous” and “kind” — and passable through the Senate.
Referring to Obamacare as a “disaster,” Trump said the legislation he hopes to sign would be “phenomenal for the people of our country.”
“Generous, kind, with heart. That is what I am saying,” Trump said. “And that may be adding additional money into it. We are going to come out with a real bill, not Obamacare.”
The meeting, organized to give the president a chance to check in on the process, brought together an eclectic group of Republican lawmakers, including Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, as the Senate grapples in private with how to reform America’s health care system.
Republicans currently face a do-or-die moment to pass a bill. Since the House passed Obamacare repeal earlier this year, Senate Republicans have been crafting their own repeal bill behind closed doors.
Now, facing a deadline if they want to finish the legislation this summer, the Trump administration is looking to step up pressure on GOP senators.
“The House has passed a bill and now the Senate is working very, very hard,” Trump said Tuesday. “And I really appreciate what you are doing.”
Trump has so far largely left the Senate to do its work, remaining hands off through a difficult process.
His legislative affairs team has been closely involved, but the president himself has been removed — by design, multiple aides on Capitol Hill said.
Trump will likely accept whatever they come up with — “Pretty obviously (he’s) not a details guy,” one Republican aide said — but will eventually be called on to help rally support for the final product.
His call for more funding, though, could make it more difficult to sell the bill to House Republicans, who will meet with senators after a bill passes the Senate to reconcile the differences between the two legislative bodies.
Additionally, according to Senate rules, the bill passed through the body has to save $133 billion, the same amount of money as the House bill.
That leaves Trump and Senate Republicans with little flexibility on spending. While they can spend more money on certain areas, they still have to hit the $133 billion marker to comply with Senate rules.
“I think he may have advanced the ball with some of my colleagues,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican who attended the meeting, told reporters after leaving the White House.
Trump’s message, Hatch said, was “that we need to go forward.”
Trump’s lunch on Tuesday included a number of more moderate Republicans, including Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, and conservatives such as Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah.
Portman, Cruz, Lee and Toomey are all members of Senate Republican’s working group on health care. Vice President Mike Pence, who has worked with Senate Republicans for weeks on health care, also joined the lunch.
Many Republican senators who attended the meeting dodged questions afterward.
Gardner and John Thune of South Dakota quickly scurried into another health care meeting on Capitol Hill. Portman said the group discussed how to get insurers back in the marketplace quickly.
One Republican aide said the message from Trump was that repealing Obamacare was a promise Republicans made to the American people — and now is the time to keep it.
“Don’t be the guy who votes to keep Obamacare alive,” said a GOP aide who was briefed on the meeting. “Let’s get this done now because circumstances are only going to get tougher.”
In recent weeks, Trump has stressed the need for Republicans to come together to repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s sweeping health care law.
Trump, angered by the fact no Democrats are working with him on repeal, has slammed the party as “obstructionists,” even going so far as to say that he would behave differently if he were a senator.