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Hatch, Lee on opposite sides of Senate health care bill as vote postponed

Sem. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, hug prior to speaking to Utah delegates in Akron, Ohio prior to the National Republican Convention on Monday, July 18, 2016. Utah's senators, on opposite sides of the debate over the Senate's health car
Sem. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, hug prior to speaking to Utah delegates in Akron, Ohio prior to the National Republican Convention on Monday, July 18, 2016. Utah's senators, on opposite sides of the debate over the Senate's health care bill, joined their Republican colleagues at a meeting Tuesday with President Donald Trump after plans were scrapped for a vote this week.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's senators, on opposite sides of the debate over the Senate's health care bill, joined their Republican colleagues at a meeting Tuesday with President Donald Trump after plans were scrapped for a vote this week.

"We want to get this done, but most importantly, we want to get it done right. More time will help us take on some of the concerns of our colleagues," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told reporters after the delay was announced.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said in a statement after meeting with Trump that he was happy the vote was postponed and looks forward to working with fellow senators and the president "to finally stand up and deliver for the middle class."

Lee is one of at least five GOP senators who intended to vote against allowing the Senate's version of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act to even be considered.

With all Senate Democrats opposed, it would take just three Republicans to block the bill, so the lack of support on the procedural vote spelled an end to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's hope for passage by the end of the week.

The Kentucky Republican leader's decision comes as Lee and other Republican opponents are attempting to negotiate changes to the bill. For Lee, that means giving individuals and states more flexibility to waive coverage requirements.

Lee said he opposed what he called the bill's first draft because it "included hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for the affluent, bailouts for insurance companies and subsidies for lower-income Americans," but nothing for the middle class.

"Republicans have an opportunity now to remember those forgotten Americans. We can rewrite our bill to bring down the price working families pay for health insurance — while still protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions," he said.

Hatch, on the other hand, was praised for his work on what's being called the Better Care Reconciliation Act by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price during the Trump administration official's visit to Utah on Monday.

In a recent Deseret News op-ed, Hatch said the Senate bill makes a "powerful statement" and "assures that Utahns get a fair shake," and he noted that "significant legislation requires compromise."

Lee's concerns have had an impact on the discussion, said Jason Perry, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.

"I think, in the end, this is going to come down to some compromise and the Senate listening to everyone," Perry said.

Hatch and Lee, he said, aren't really that far apart on the bill.

"We'll find that there are several routes to get to health care reform," Perry said. "Sen. Hatch has been in favor of this bill. He sees it as a substantial step forward. Sen. Lee does not think it goes far enough."

Utahns want to see changes to former President Barack Obama's signature health care law, Perry said, but it remains to be seen whether they are more in agreement with Hatch or Lee.

"The majority of Utahns want something to happen with the Affordable Care Act. They're looking forward to it being repealed and replaced," he said. "We'll look to see where it goes after today."

Boyd Matheson, Lee's former chief of staff and now president of the conservative Sutherland Institute, said Lee was making the case the Senate bill "is really jamming something through that shouldn't be jammed through."

Matheson said the effort to rush the bill through before the July 4 recess was "really reckless" because health care accounts for "one-sixth of our economy. It impacts every single American's life and a lot of their livelihoods."

Lee deserves credit, Matheson said, for "standing up for the hardworking Utahn, the one who's not getting anything out of the current bill. So that's good for Utahns that they have someone who is passionate about policy."

The president sounded positive in a tweet posted after sitting down with GOP senators, saying, "I just finished a great meeting with the Republican Senators concerning HealthCare. They really want to get it right, unlike OCare!"