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Senate faces do-or-die moment on health care

WASHINGTON – He might not have realized it at the time, but Georgia U.S. Sen. David Perdue may have perfectly summed up the GOP’s current predicament on health care.

“If you fix it, then nobody is going to be 100 percent happy with what you do,” the first-term Republican told reporters on Tuesday afternoon. “If you don’t fix it, then it’s your fault.”

That ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ quandary will be on full display Thursday morning as Senate Republican leaders try again to get their GOP colleagues on board with a retooled Obamacare replacement plan.

After Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s first attempt to scrap the Affordable Care Act fell flat, deep internal divisions over issues such as Medicaid and insurance coverage for preexisting conditions have continued to roil efforts to strike a new agreement over the GOP's signature campaign promise.

Read more: Proposed Medicaid cuts in Senate healthcare plan spark fear

Recent reporting has suggested McConnell’s new bill will make some modest tweaks to his initial draft. It's unlikely it will include the magic bullet needed over to win over at least 50 Republican senators at the moment.

Republicans can’t seem to agree on what should be in a health care bill, but there is consensus that they can’t go home for the August recess without something to show for it. That fueled McConnell’s decision to heed Perdue’s call to truncate the five-week break.

McConnell has suggested he’s willing to look toward the Democrats if the latest GOP effort fails – at least for a modest bill to stabilize Obamacare’s individual markets in the short term.

Georgia’s two Republican senators, who have been steady supporters of the Senate replacement legislation, say they’re still hopeful about what’s ahead for the GOP effort, even as they've sought last-minute tweaks to the bill.

“I’ve been frustrated and I know you have been too,” Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson said during a telephone town hall Tuesday evening. “We’ve finally broken through and the Senate will be speaking in the next few weeks ahead.”

Perdue cited Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia's recent announcement that it would raise rates on the state’s Obamacare exchange plan by an average of 40.6 percent in 2018 regarding why the GOP needed to push ahead.

“I haven’t let myself think that far yet,” said Perdue when asked about whether he’d back a bipartisan market stabilization bill. “The reason is I’m still hopeful we’ll get to a bill that we can pass next week.”

We should know the answer sooner rather than later this morning.

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.