By Jordain Carney - 07-06-17 16:45 PM EDT
Acknowledging that Senate Republicans may not be able to pass their ObamaCare repeal legislation, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is warning that action will then have to be taken to stabilize insurance markets.
"If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement, then some kind of action with regard to private health insurance markets must occur," McConnell said at a Rotary Club meeting in Kentucky on Thursday, according to multiple reports.
MCCONNELL: "If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement...." (1/2)- Kasie Hunt (@kasie) July 6, 2017
MCCONNELL: "...then some kind of action with regard to private health insurance markets must occur." (2/2)- Kasie Hunt (@kasie) July 6, 2017
Republicans are trying to move legislation through the Senate that would repeal and replace ObamaCare, but they face opposition from within their own party.
McConnell is using fast-track budget rules for the legislation that prevent a filibuster from Democrats.
If the legislation is put aside, Republicans would need to negotiate a deal with Democrats on stabilizing insurance markets.
McConnell reiterated on Thursday that taking "no action is not an alternative."
"We've got the insurance markets imploding all over the country, including in this state," McConnell said, according to The Associated Press.
Republicans have campaigned for years on repealing and replacing ObamaCare, arguing the Affordable Care Act is "failing" and in a "death spiral," and insisting the law is not fixable.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) touted McConnell's comments, saying the Kentucky Republican "opened the door to bipartisan solutions."
"It's encouraging that Sen. McConnell today acknowledged that the issues with the exchanges are fixable," Schumer said. "As we've said time and time again, Democrats are eager to work with Republicans to stabilize the markets and improve the law. At the top of the list should be ensuring cost-sharing payments are permanent, which will protect health care for millions."
But the GOP has struggled to coalesce around a plan that can win over both conservative and moderate factions, who remain deeply divided on key issues like the Medicaid expansion.
Democrats and critics have also seized on a politically damaging Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis, which predicted that under the legislation an additional 22 million Americans would become uninsured over a decade.
GOP leadership had hoped to vote on a healthcare bill last month, but delayed the move as nine GOP senators came out against their legislation. With a 52-seat majority, leadership can only afford to lose two senators and still let Vice President Pence break a tie.
Republican have faced a wave of pressure over the July Fourth recess to oppose the legislation. They are set to return to Washington on Monday without an agreement on the path forward.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who opposes the Senate plan, said there isn't a "significant consensus" on how to fix healthcare during a packed town hall on Thursday.
"[It's] almost impossible to try to solve when you're trying to do it with 51 votes in the United States Senate, in which there is not significant consensus on what the end result ought to be."
GOP Sens. Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Ted Cruz (Texas) signaled separately on Wednesday that they don't expect Republicans to vote next week.
Congress is scheduled to be in town for only three weeks before leaving for the August recess, though leadership is under pressure to delay or cancel that break if progress isn't made by then on top issues, including healthcare.
Republicans have spent months locked in negotiations, despite senators initially wanting to clear a repeal bill in the spring.
The focus on healthcare comes as the GOP legislative agenda is months behind schedule. Lawmakers still need to raise the debt ceiling, get a deal on funding the government, set up tax reform and move several pieces of major policy legislation.
Republican senators have previously warned that if they can't get enough support to repeal ObamaCare, they will be forced to negotiate with Democrats, who want to keep the current law but fix it.
"Either Republicans will agree and change the status quo, or the markets will continue to collapse and we'll have to sit down with Senator Schumer. And my suspicion is that any negotiation with the Democrats would include none of the reforms that we would like to make, both on the market side and the Medicaid side," McConnell warned after a closed-door meeting with President Trump and Senate Republicans last month.
Several Senate Republicans have floated passing a bill aimed at a short-term stabilization of the insurance markets as senators continue to negotiate, but that idea has largely failed to gain traction.
Updated 5:28 p.m.