Senate rejects Obamacare repeal again, eyes a 'skinny' bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans in the U.S. Senate fell short again on Wednesday in their effort to end Obamacare, rejecting a measure to repeal large portions of President Barack Obama's signature law that has provided health insurance to millions of Americans.

But Republican Senate leaders, struggling to keep a seven-year-old promise to unravel the law, already were trying to gain support for a slimmed-down "skinny" bill that would throw the issue to a Senate-House of Representatives negotiating committee.

Republican senators said they were still determining what would be in the skinny repeal, which could simply eliminate mandates requiring individuals and employers to obtain or provide health insurance, and abolish a tax on medical device manufacturers.

RELATED: Protests against the Republican health care bill

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Protests against the Republican health care bill
THE PARK IMPERIAL AT 230 WEST 56TH ST , NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2017/07/10: New Yorkers and healthcare advocacy groups organized a protest on July 10, 2017; outside Rep. John Faso's fundraiser as donors arrive at the Park Imperial at 230 West 56th St. in Midtown Manhattan. Faso voted for the House Trumpcare bill in May, he also coauthored the notorious Collins-Faso amendment to both the House and Senate bills that would shift New York Medicaid funding from counties budgets to the state budget. (Photo by Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
A healthcare activist protests to stop the Republican health care bill at Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Healthcare activists protest to stop the Republican health care bill at Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Healthcare activists get a police warning during a protest to stop the Republican health care bill at Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Healthcare activists protest to stop the Republican health care bill at Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 10: A demonstrater from Arizona chants, 'Kill the bill or lose your job' while sitting on the floor outside the offices of Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) during a protest against health care reform legislation in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill July 10, 2017 in Washington, DC. More than 100 people from across the country were arrested during the protest that was organized by Housing Works and Center for Popular Democracy. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
NEW YORK COUNTY REPUBLICAN OFFICE, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2017/07/05: The Socialist Feminists of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) organized a protest outside of the New York County Republican Office in New York City on July 5, 2017; to tell Republicans that is it despicable and undemocratic that they are trying to ram Trumpcare through the Senate without debate or public hearings. (Photo by Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 10: Health care protesters from Arkansas chant outside of the office of Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., in the Hart Senate Office Building on Monday, July 10, 2017. About a dozen people loudly voiced opposition to the GOP health care bill. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
THE PARK IMPERIAL AT 230 WEST 56TH ST , NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2017/07/10: New Yorkers and healthcare advocacy groups organized a protest on July 10, 2017; outside Rep. John Faso's fundraiser as donors arrive at the Park Imperial at 230 West 56th St. in Midtown Manhattan. Faso voted for the House Trumpcare bill in May, he also coauthored the notorious Collins-Faso amendment to both the House and Senate bills that would shift New York Medicaid funding from counties budgets to the state budget. (Photo by Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 5: A small group of activists rally against the GOP health care plan outside of the Metropolitan Republican Club, July 5, 2017 in New York City. Republicans in the Senate will resume work on the bill next week when Congress returns to Washington after a holiday recess. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
A small group of activists rally against the GOP health care plan outside of the Metropolitan Republican Club, July 5, 2017 in New York City. Republicans in the Senate will resume work on the bill next week when Congress returns to Washington after a holiday recess. (Photo by Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Healthcare activists protest to stop the Republican health care bill at Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 10, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Healthcare activists are detained after a protest to stop the Republican health care bill at Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
A staff members asks the media to leave the room as Healthcare activists protest in the office of Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) to stop the Republican health care bill at Russell Senate Office building on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 10, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
U.S. Capitol police arrest demonstrators in wheelchairs protesting against the AHCA health care bill put forward by President Trump and Congressional Republicans as several dozen protestors are taken into custody after refusing to leave the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., March 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Demonstrators hold signs during a protest against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act outside the Capitol Building in Washington, U.S., March 22, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Healthcare activists are detained after a protest to stop the Republican health care bill at Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
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Senator John Thune, the No. 3 Senate Republican, said the party was trying to "figure out what the traffic will bear, in terms of getting 50 of our members to vote for things that will repeal as much of Obamacare as possible."

Republicans hold a 52-48 majority in the Senate.

Any Senate legislation would be enough to kick the issue to a special negotiating committee with the House, which passed its own version in May. If that panel can agree on a new bill, the full House and Senate would again have to approve the legislation - a process that could last for months.

"I think people would look at it not necessarily based on its content, but as a forcing mechanism to cause the two sides of the building to try to solve it together," Republican Senator Bob Corker said. "That's going to be the last chance."

The discussions came as the Senate rejected 45-55 a straight repeal of Obamacare with a two-year delay in implementation to allow Congress to work out a replacement. Seven Republicans opposed the measure.

It was the Senate's second failure in 24 hours to repeal the 2010 law popularly known as Obamacare, which expanded health insurance to about 20 million people, many of them low-income.

The Senate on Tuesday rejected the repeal-and-replace plan Republicans had been working on since May, with nine of the 52 Republicans voting against it.

That failed vote, and a narrow 51-50 decision to open debate on the issue, with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote, underscored the party's deep divisions on the role of government in helping provide access to healthcare.

The Senate plans more votes on other approaches in coming days in a freewheeling debate that could stretch through the week. It is also a test of how Republicans govern, now that they control both Congress and the White House.

President Donald Trump, who has been in office for six months, has come down hard on his fellow Republicans for failing to act on Obamacare, something that he had promised repeatedly in his election campaign last year. Some Senate Republicans were growing uncomfortable with the chaotic debate.

"We've got to have a more organized process," Republican Senator Ron Johnson said, noting the skinny repeal would simply kick the issue down the road. "We just don't have the courage and really the intestinal fortitude to suck it up and ... do this right."

(Writing by John Whitesides; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker; Editing by Mary Milliken, Howard Goller and Leslie Adler)

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