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Lee spurs Senate to work on health care bill through August recess

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SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee joined seven Republican senators at a news conference Tuesday calling on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to keep the Senate in session through its traditional August break.

The Utah Republican also continued to voice opposition to the current GOP health care reform plan.

"The last iteration of the bill is one that I cannot support," Lee said.

Shortly after the news conference, McConnell announced a two-week delay in the August recess. He told reporters in Washington that the Senate on Thursday would lay out a revised version of the plan to repeal and replace Obamacare and consider the bill next week.

Lee is among several conservative senators pushing for fewer coverage requirements. He said he pointed out to his colleagues that there are some changes that would "bring me along," including the consumer freedom option and allowing people to use pretax dollars to pay their premiums using a health savings account.

"That's one way to get me to say yes on the bill," Lee said.

The consumer freedom option lets insurers sell health plans that don't comply with Affordable Care Act regulations, such as pre-existing conditions protections or essential health benefits, as long as they also sell plans that meet the rules. Both Republican and Democratic critics say that could make it harder for people with pre-existing conditions to get insurance.

In addition to health care, the Senate needs to pass a budget, raise the debt limit and come up with a spending plan before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. Then it could turn to tax reform, growing the economy, repairing roads and bridges, and rebuilding the military, according to a letter 10 GOP senators sent to McConnell last week.

"We have an enormous amount of work to do," Lee said. "At this time, it just doesn’t make any sense for us to take the month of August off."

McConnell blamed the recess delay on an "unprecedented level of obstruction" and said Democrats have "mindlessly stalled" confirmation of President Donald Trump's appointees.

"In order to provide more time to complete action on important legislative items and process nominees that have been stalled by a lack of cooperation from our friends across the aisle, the Senate will delay the start of the August recess until the third week of August," he said in a statement.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., later told reporters the problem Republicans are having with health care isn't time but the substance of the bill.

"Two weeks isn't going to solve their problem," Schumer said. "The way they can solve their problem is very simple: Get rid of all the tax cuts to the rich, get rid of cuts to Medicaid, and work with us to improve the existing system."

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, also weighed in on Democrats holding up Trump administration nominees, noting that only 46 of 178 had been confirmed as of June 28.

"This level of obstruction is not normal," Hatch said in a statement.

"Rather than working with Republicans in the spirit of bipartisanship, Democrats have sought to stall the president’s agenda by blocking the nominations of key administration officials, all in an effort to satisfy the demands of an extreme political base," he said.

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Dennis Romboy


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