U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday said he has yet to hit upon a formula for repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a new healthcare program, but he expressed some optimism on another top priority, overhauling the tax code.
In an exclusive interview with Reuters, McConnell said healthcare and taxes still top the Republican legislative agenda, and he added he will not be reaching out to the minority Democrats on either one because differences between the two parties are too stark.
That approach will leave McConnell, a conservative 75-year-old Kentuckian with a reputation as a dealmaker, a narrow path to win passage of these ambitious goals, which are also at the head of Republican President Donald Trump's policy agenda.
Referring to behind-the-scenes work among Senate Republicans on a healthcare bill, McConnell said, "I don't know how we get to 50 (votes) at the moment. But that's the goal."
Under a scenario of gathering the votes needed for passage in the 100-seat chamber, Republican Vice President Mike Pence would be called upon to cast any potential tie-breaking Senate vote.
McConnell opened the interview by saying, "There's not a whole lot of news to be made on healthcare." He declined to provide any timetable for producing even a draft bill to show to rank-and-file Republican senators and gauge their support.
On the other hand, he said, prospects for passage of major tax legislation were "pretty good." While this too will be difficult, McConnell said, it is "not in my view quite as challenging as healthcare."
Trump and his fellow Republicans in Congress want to cut tax rates across the board, but a House of Representatives proposal to use the tax code to boost exports and discourage imports has split the business community and some lawmakers.
The Republican-led House on May 4 narrowly approved its own legislation to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system and dismantle major parts of the Obamacare law that was Democratic former President Barack Obama's signature legislative achievement.
The House passed it over unified Democratic opposition.
Healthcare legislation must be passed by the Senate, and then the two chambers must work out the differences between their versions before it can go to Trump for his signature.
(Reporting By Susan Cornwell and Yasmeen Abutaleb; Writing by Richard Cowan; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Will Dunham)