Senate Republicans hoping to pass healthcare reform are starting to pin their hopes on a new "skinny" plan to repeal Obamacare that has begun to garner support.
"We've got to produce an out outcome, and if the first step is the so-called skinny repeal, then that is a good first step," Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., told the Washington Examiner.
The pivot to a scaled-back version of the bill followed the defeat of two GOP healthcare plans in the Senate, one that would repeal Obamacare in two years and another that would repeal it immediately with a replacement.
The GOP must now find a measure that can pass the Senate at the conclusion of 20 hours of debate and the introduction of what could be dozens of amendments.
The bare-bones alternative is the skinny repeal.
Republicans haven't written an official proposal, but the skinny repeal would end the Obamacare mandate requiring people to purchase health insurance. It would also stop implementation of Obamacare's medical device tax that has long been unpopular with both Democrats and Republicans who say the cost is being passed along to consumers and is stifling medical innovation.
"I think there is broad agreement on the mandates and obviously medical device tax," Senate Republican Conference Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., told reporters after a closed-door GOP meeting Wednesday.
Republicans told the Washington Examiner that voting for a skinny repeal would not be considered the final proposal. Instead, it would be used as a vehicle to bring the House and Senate together to work on an entirely new bill in a conference committee that would last into September.
The extended timeframe would allow the Congressional Budget Office to provide an analysis of key conservative amendments that are lacking this week and which helped lead to the defeat of the GOP bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.
One amendment, offered by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, would allow insurance companies to offer a range of coverage as long as they include one plan that adheres to the Obamacare mandates.
"The Congressional Budget Office tells us they need a couple of more weeks in order to get those scores and what that says to me is we need a little bit of time," said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas. "One way to take advantage of that is for the Senate to pass a bill, get it to conference, they'll get the scores and we can take that up in conference and come up with a bill the House and Senate can agree to once we have the scores."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he would back voting for the skinny repeal plan, but only if it would be used to come up with a new plan with House lawmakers.
"It alone cannot be success," Graham said. "The main thing to me is a vehicle to do something bigger."
Graham has written a proposal with Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., that he wants to be included in a final bill. The proposal would keep many Obamacare taxes and give the states the power to decide what parts of the law to keep in place.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, is another lawmaker hoping for a conference with the House. Portman wants more time for a Congressional Budget Office analysis of his amendment, which would provide states with $100 billion in Medicaid funds to help the poor pay for healthcare.
The amendment went down with the defeat of the GOP's repeal and replace bill in part because it lacked the CBO outlook.
"I think it's within the scope of conference, easily," Portman said. "This would fit."
The details of skinny repeal have not been decided, leaving an air of uncertainty about what will happen at the end of the week, when debate and amendment votes are likely to run out. But Republicans haven't decided on the specifics.
"That is conjecture," said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. "It's a concept."
Republicans will have to vote on something and they want it to win at least 50 votes in order to at least partly uphold their years-long pledge to repeal Obamacare.
Cornyn acknowledged after meeting with Republicans Tuesday "we don't know what the contents would be" of the skinny repeal. The final measure will depend upon how many votes it can get, he said.
"We're left with the bottom line that we need 50-plus senators to vote for something so we can get it to the House so we can have a conference committee," Cornyn said.